Thursday, September 24, 2009

Convicted Lawyer Seeks New Trial Based On Internet Post

The web page of the Pennsylvania bar disciplinary system reports the interim suspension of an attorney based on a criminal conviction. The Chester County Daily Local News has some details about the underlying conviction and post-conviction contentions:

 The West Chester attorney who was sent to state prison last month for stealing $20,000 from the family of a drug dealer he was representing has refiled a motion for a new trial, contending again that at least one of the jurors hearing the case acted improperly in discussing the case on the Internet.

In court papers filed Monday, Mark Rassman, the attorney representing Daniel McCaughan, said that someone calling themselves "1 of 14 Jurors" had posted items to the Internet, suggesting a bias during the trial against McCaughan.

The motion also alleges that Judge Howard F. Riley, who oversaw the trial and sentenced McCaughan to two to four years in prison, had told the panel after their verdict he was "pleased" with the outcome of the case, and said he would be "throwing the book" at McCaughan.

In March, Rassman had filed a similar motion after McCaughan was found guilty by a jury of theft and money laundering charges. Riley denied the motion for a new trial, saying that it was premature because McCaughan had as of then not been sentenced.

Riley has scheduled a hearing on the motion for June 26.

McCaughan, 48, known for his flamboyant American flag ties and lapel pins and fanciful, colorful stories about his military service, was found guilty Feb. 11 after a weeklong trial by a jury on charges of three counts of theft and one count of dealing in proceeds of an unlawful activity, a first-degree felony money-laundering charge. The jury took 90 minutes to reach its verdict.

McCaughan, whom the prosecutor in the case called "the in-house counsel for a drug cartel," took cash totaling more than $20,000 from the mother of a drug dealer who had been arrested in June 2004. He said he would keep the money for the man, Christopher Stansberry, in safe keeping, so that authorities could not seize it as part of their case against him.

But when Stansberry's mother asked McCaughan to return the money more than two years later, he no longer had it. He said he had given it to a drug dealer named Omar Vasquez, whom he said he worked for.

McCaughan was convicted of money laundering because the prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kelly, was able to show that McCaughan knew the cash came from illegal drug proceeds.

In his motion, Rassman said, "at least one juror may have ignored (Riley's) instruction not to utilize any outside source of information." He said McCaughan believed that a juror, or someone purporting to be a juror "as accessing the Internet and possibly 'googgling' (sic) Defendant during the course of the trial."

Rassman said that McCaughan had retrieved several messages posted on the Web site about the case, sent by a person calling themselves "1 of 14 Jurors."

In his motion, Rassman said the anonymous poster wrote the following:

"Judge Riley was very PLEASED with the outcome of the Jury. He will be throwing the book at Dan. The community of Lawyers in West Chester are discussed (sic) with Dan's actions and that he has portrayed them in such a negative light. Judge Riley said he will make sure that Dan is disbarred forever, so he can never practice law again in the United States."

"The comments, if made by a juror, are in fact true, (McCaughan) has been deprived of his constitutional right to a trial by a jury of impartial jurors. If the comments are true, (McCaughan) is entitled to a new trial," Rassman wrote.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink

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