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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: disbarment

Steele asks for new murder-plot trial

The recently disbarred lawyer who defended North Idaho attorney Edgar Steele at his murder-for-hire trial says he acted ineffectively because he was distracted by his own legal problems.

 Robert McAllister said his thinking process during Steele's trial in Boise, which ended with his conviction on all counts in May, was disrupted by the pending disbarment proceeding in Colorado, which stemmed from allegations that he embezzled money from clients.

“…I assumed I could perform was well as I had performed previously, not understanding the full extent that the prospect of disbarment would have on me,” McAllister wrote.

McAllister's statement is included in a 50-page motion for a new trial filed this week in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has until Sept. 12 to respond to the motion. A hearing before a judge has not been scheduled.

Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Nov. 14 for four felonies related to a plan to kill his wife with a pipe bomb strapped under her car by a handyman he'd hired as a hitman.

 Steele faces at least 30 years in prison; he's been in custody since his arrest in June 2010.

An 11-woman, 1 man jury convicted him May 5 after a two-week trial in Boise.

The motion, drafted by Steele's new lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, who once represented his wife and alleged victim, Cyndi Steele, calls for a new trial based on ineffective counsel and alleged prosecutorial and FBI misconduct, among other issues. (Hoyt and Cyndi Steele are pictured after a jury convicted Edgar in May.)

Hoyt said McAllister failed to subpoena audio expert George Papcun, whom Hoyt says would have provided crucial testimony regarding the authenticity of audio recordings in which Steele discusses the plot to kill his wife with hitman-turned-FBI informant Larry Fairfax. Papcun traveled to Bora Bora with his wife during the trial and was unable to testify.

Coeur d'Alene lawyer Gary Amendola blames McAllister for failing to secure Papcun's presence. He said he believes McAllister didn't properly prepare for the trial.

“His cross examination of witnesses called by the United States was disjointed and random and often did not get to the issue that needed to be addressed,” Amendola wrote. “His examination of witnesses called by the defense was equally weak, disjointed and random. He also paid little attention to directives from Edgar Steele.”
Amendola calls McAllister's closing argument “rambling and ineffective” and said he failed to address key legal issues, including those raised in jury instructions.

McAllistter took over the case from Roger Peven, executive director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Hoyt alleged Peven provided ineffective counsel because he was “seriously distracted” by legal proceedings regarding alleged poor management of the office.

“Peven and McAllister stand as proverbial 'bookends' of ineffectiveness,” the motion reads.

Steele has said he is the victim of a government conspiracy to silence him because of his views on politics and race.

Steele describes himself as the “attorney for the damned” and says he defends the politically incorrect. He defended late Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler against the 2000 civil lawsuit from the Southern Poverty law Center that bankrupted the racist group.

The motion alleges non-government organizations like the SPLC and Anti-Defamation League pressured the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute Steele. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson has said no one knew of Steele until Fairfax told the FBI he'd been hired to kill his wife.

The motion also said Steele's mental state was compromised “by his arrest, solitary confinement and sudden withdrawal of prescription pain medications” but his lawyers failed to explore the issue.

Edgar Steele disbarred in Washington

Idaho attorney Edgar Steele won’t be representing any Washington clients from his jail cell. 

The Washington Supreme Court suspended Steele Wednesday from practicing in the state pending disciplinary proceedings that could result in disbarment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in a federal prison for his May 5 conviction on four charges related to his attempt to have another man kill his wife and mother-in-law.

He is in the federal custody awaiting sentencing in August.

Until he commissioned a bogus hitman, Steele was best known for his unsuccessful defense of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler.

Steele's lawyer, Robert McAlister, was recently disbarred in Colorado.

From ‘Baby Ryan’ fame to disbarment

The Washington Supreme Court disbarred a prominent Spokane attorney Thursday after his client complained the lawyer charged him $25,000 to settle a minor dispute over the lease price of a car.

The high court ruled unanimously to uphold the disbarment of Russell Van Camp, who has represented National Right to Life advocates and anti-abortion activists throughout the West. The court said he misled his client about the nature of the $25,000 fee and didn’t follow through with the client’s desire to quickly settle the case.

Read the rest of Tom Clouses's story here.

Van Camp (pictured in 2004) gained national attention in 1994 when he took on the case of a baby born with dead kidneys, possible brain damage and other health problems. Doctors tried to withhold lifesaving dialysis and persuaded the family to let the baby die, but they hired Van Camp instead, and the case gained national media attention.

A 1994 Spokesman-Review profile of Van Camp described him as not being known in Spokane legal circles for his legal mind, rather “Van Camp relies on his people skills.”

“I have maximized the average intelligence I have,” he said at the time. “A good trial lawyer’s an actor upon the stage. I’m just a glorified vacuum cleaner salesman.”

In response to discipline by the Washignton State Bar Association, Van Camp said in 1994 that the association and other attorney were cliquish, jealous of his practice and bitter about losing to him.

A Pat Robertson delegate to the 1988 Republican National Convention, Van Camp said he also believes he’s unpopular because he’s one of the country’s few Christians who have made lawyering a success.

“I make no apologies for the person I am. I yam what I yam,” Van Camp says in a bad Popeye impression. “I’m winning and making money.”

Read the full profile from December 1994 here.

Edgar Steele’s lawyer disbarred in Colo.

The Colorado lawyer who defended Edgar Steele in his murder-for-hire case has been disbarred.

Robert T. McAllister agreed this week to give up his law license after he acknowledged misusing client funds on two occasions unrelated to Steele's case, according to a document signed in Colorado Supreme Court.

According to the document, which is available here, McAllister misused a $5,255.43 check while representing a company in a lawsuit. He also used $100,000 from another client, transferring $80,000 into his own account and $20,000 into an accounted owned by Steamboat Skyglass Lodge, LLC, an entity he controls.

McAllister was chief criminal deputy for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in District of Colorado and the Northern District of Illinois from 1976 to 1983.

Steele was represented by a public defender until supporters raised a reported $120,000 and McAllister took over. McAllister handled most of the questioning during Steele's trial in Boise last month, which ended with jurors convicting Steele on all charges

McAllister and co-counsel Gary Amendola have said they intend to ask for a new trial ; it's unclear how that will proceed now that McAllister is disbarred.

Amendola did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Lawyer Wesley Hoyt, who is working with Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, said he had no information.

“This is the first I've heard of it,” Hoyt said today. “I intend to look into the matter, and that's about all I can say.”

McAllister is described by the publication Law Week as one of Denver's most well-known defense lawyers. He could not be reached for comment.

Lawyer who targeted client’s cash disbarred

By Thomas Clouse

One Spokane lawyer has been disbarred and another suspended from practicing law for three years by the Washington State Supreme Court for separate transgressions regarding their clients’ finances.

Robert E. Beach III has been suspended for failing to comply with the rules of professional conduct regarding his handling of client accounts, according to court records.

Also last week, David Hellenthal was disbarred after he refused to return clients’ money after they learned Hellenthal had been suspended for other previous financial transgressions.

According to court records, Hellenthal helped two women in 2007 obtain control of their ailing husbands’ property or finances without consulting the husbands.

In one case, Hellenthal set himself up to receive a client’s $170,000 inheritance if the client died.

Read an article on Hellenthal from 2007 that details the misconduct:

Spokane attorney suspended for misconduct

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