Lobbyist found in contempt of court during divorce case

Cooke has 30 days to make $34,000 support payment

December 13, 2003|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Already under indictment in California on corruption charges, Annapolis lobbyist Ira C. Cooke was found in contempt of court yesterday in his divorce case and ordered to pay within the next 30 days more than $34,000 in past-due support and alimony payments.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh found Cooke in contempt after a one-hour hearing, during which the lobbyist pleaded that he was virtually penniless and barely able "to keep the lights on" for his dwindling law and lobbying practice.

Among the few expenses Cooke enumerated under questioning were fees totaling $22,500 that the lobbyist said he paid recently to lawyers in California and Baltimore who are defending him against criminal charges of grand theft, commercial bribery, and conspiracy he faces in Bakersfield, Calif.

"I don't have it. I borrowed money, and I owe a tremendous amount of money," Cooke said.

Cooke's pleas of poverty were not convincing to Cavanaugh, who said the lobbyist and his attorney, Bruce Mann, had failed to provide any convincing evidence that he was unable to pay the $12,170 in support payments and $22,203 as his share of tuition for his children.

In fact, the judge noted, the evidence presented by Richard Jacobs, the attorney for Cooke's wife, Randi Thomas-Cooke, showed that the lobbyist had earned fees of a little more than $258,000 during the recent legislative session and collected about $82,000 in October alone.

Cavanaugh said Cooke "appears to have total control" of the bank account maintained for his lobbying business, and "he has used it for personal use."

Cooke and his lawyer had argued that he would have paid what he owed to his wife if only she would turn over to him his $98,000 share of the proceeds from the house they formerly shared. Cooke said he had made that offer several times, only to have it rejected.

Cavanaugh, however, said the distribution of the proceeds from the house sale was a separate issue to be decided at a later date. Yesterday's hearing, he said, was solely on the issue of whether Cooke had complied with a previously issued support order.

Yesterday's ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for Cooke. He was indicted in October in Bakersfield on charges stemming from an investigation of a defunct mental health clinic. He has entered an innocent plea to those charges in Kern County Superior Court, and a trial has been scheduled for June. The indictment charges Cooke with illegally funneling back consulting fees to an officer of the clinic.

One of the state's most active lobbyists, Cooke listed 11 clients in the last legislative session, including bail bondsmen and gambling interests.

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