(Prologue: Following the Wecht case is like watching a martial arts film. As you read the court papers, you'll witness gleams of razor-sharp prose and rhetoric from lawyers on both sides. I'm highlighting some quotes here today but later I may post some of the court filings themselves, as I did in the McNeilly case. E-mail me if you're interested, and watch for a new post when Wecht's lawyers file their response in court.)
There are major developments in the battle between federal prosecutors and lawyers for former Coroner Doctor Cyril Wecht. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has filed a court motion seeking sanctions and suggesting Wecht's lawyers deserve to be jailed or banned from practicing law in federal court.
She's accusing Wecht's lawyers of having:
• "repeatedly lied to the court, lied to the media, breached their ethical obligations as lawyers, violated the rules of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and flaunted the orders of this Court."
The motion charges that:
• "On or before June 6, 2007, Mr. Rush and Mr. McDevitt committed their latest, and perhaps most egregious, act of professional misconduct, displayed on the front page of the June 7, 2007, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... In one fell swoop, Mr. Rush and Mr. McDevitt made improper extrajudicial statements about plea discussions and the merits of the case that were both knowingly false and substantially likely to prejudice the case, all the while violating some of the most basic and fundamental principles of professionalism."
At issue are statements by Wecht's lawyers Mark Rush and Jerry McDevitt, who are defending Wecht against public corruption charges. Wecht's lawyers claim the prosecution is political. In the latest court papers, Buchanan argues that the attorneys falsely told the Post-Gazette that her office was trying to reach a deal in the case because Buchanan was facing questioning by Congress.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Stallings signed and filed a sworn affidavit with the motion in which he not only rebuts the claims by Wecht's attorneys, but pledges "If I ever came to believe that this prosecution, or any prosecution I was involved in, was motivated by political considerations rather than justice considerations, I would resign from my post as Assistant United States Attorney."
Wecht's attorneys tell me:
• "We deny the allegations and look forward to putting forth the true set of facts before a tribunal about their conduct in this case."
They quote from a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Wecht case that strikes down local federal court rules limiting the speech of attorneys. That opinion says:
• "Here, it is undisputed that Wecht’s attorneys are willing to speak about the case and that Local Rule 83.1 limits their ability to do so. To the extent that an occasion arises in the future where defense counsel desires to make public statements about the case, we believe the media and public have a legitimate interest in those comments not being inhibited by overly restrictive limitations."
Wecht's attorneys also say:
"The very first time we speak, they run into court and ask the judge to throw us into jail and suspend our licenses to practice law in federal court."