Defense attorney removed from murder trial over alleged conflict

March 02, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,melissa.harris@baltsun.com

A Baltimore judge has removed a veteran defense attorney from a high-profile murder case after learning that he was representing the suspect as well as a witness in related criminal and civil matters.

Defense attorney James Rhodes had represented Steven James Lashley, 30, who is awaiting trial in a 2005 triple stabbing near the New York Fried Chicken on The Block. Meanwhile, Rhodes had advised another client, a witness in the case, to refuse to testify at Lashley's trial out of fear she would say something incriminating.

Rhodes is also representing the same witness in a more than $60 million civil lawsuit against the lead detective in the Lashley case for false imprisonment and arrest, among other claims. In the complaint, Rhodes alleges that Baltimore Detective Todd Corriveau illegally charged her with accessory to murder and lying to an officer because she would not tell him where Lashley was.

Police alleged she rented the car the suspect used to drive away from the crime scene. Prosecutors later dropped the charges against the witness. The Baltimore Sun is withholding the name of the witness for her protection.

Assistant State's Attorney David Grzechowiak raised the issue of a conflict of interest Feb. 18, the eve of trial, before Circuit Court Judge George Russell III.

"She's testifying against another one of your clients in a murder trial," Russell told Rhodes. "There's an inherent conflict there. ... This could be an absolute disaster."

Russell said that allowing Rhodes to continue to defend Lashley could result in a mistrial or a conviction being overturned on appeal. He also said that the situation was unfair to Lashley.

The case has been postponed six times.

"Justice delayed is sort of justice denied," Russell said. "He's been in lock up for a long period of time. But there's nothing worse than sitting through seven days' worth of trial only to have it result in a mistrial."

Rhodes argued that it was unfair for prosecutors to have waited this long to raise the issue with a judge. He said that attorney Timothy Dixon is now representing Lashley.

"There was no reason to ask that I be removed except the state didn't want me trying the case," Rhodes said.

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