From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Attorney raising funds for prosecutor:
A well-known Richmond defense attorney is soliciting donations to help Caroline County Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Latney Jr. repay $300,000 that the prosecutor’s longtime secretary is accused of stealing from a client.
Craig S. Cooley, who has opposed Latney in the courtroom in the past, said yesterday that he sent out the letter because Latney “is perhaps the most respected attorney and human being that I know.”
“It could happen to any one of us,” Cooley said of the theft from an estate for which Latney, who also maintains a private law practice, was the executor.
Cooley said Latney is a fair and honest professional and that Cooley would not expect preferential treatment in his dealings with the prosecutor. Still, Cooley added, “I don’t know that I would take any case at this point in which he was the prosecutor” now that Cooley is soliciting money for Latney.
In 2004, Cooley won acquittal for John F. Ames, a Caroline cattleman and bankruptcy attorney, during a murder trial that Latney prosecuted. Ames had said he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot his neighbor during a dispute over a wayward bull.
While Cooley would not say how much he has contributed to the repayment fund or say who has donated money, campaign finance reports show that several attorneys have given money to Latney’s separate re-election campaign, including some defense attorneys who oppose him in court. One of them, Mark Murphy, gave $1,500, making him the top contributor to Latney’s campaign to date, based on the reports.
Cooley said yesterday that he sent the letter Sept. 20 to a select number of defense attorneys, prosecutors and others, though he would not specify to whom or how many people. Cooley said the fund drive has nothing to do with Latney’s re-election campaign, and he lamented that the letter had been posted on a blog maintained by a supporter of Latney’s opponent, Tony Spencer. Cooley confirmed the authenticity of the letter.
If it’s on the up and up, then what’s the problem?
Spencer, a former Richmond deputy commonwealth’s attorney, said yesterday that a copy of Cooley’s letter had been given to him and that he provided a copy to a supporter.
“I hold Craig Cooley in high esteem. I believe everything he does comes from a pure motive. But it would come as no surprise to anyone that the criminal defense bar would like to see Harvey Latney re-elected,” Spencer said.
Spencer has accused Latney of routinely agreeing to an excessive number of plea deals that result in dropped or reduced charges. Efforts to reach Latney by telephone and in person at his office in Bowling Green yesterday were unsuccessful.
Murphy, the top contributor to Latney’s campaign, represents Donna L. Blanton, a Caroline woman who won a retrial for her conviction in the October 2003 slaying of her law-enforcement husband. Blanton’s new trial is scheduled to start Nov. 29. Murphy represented her during her initial trial as well.
Murphy said yesterday that Latney is a longtime friend and an ardent advocate for the people of Caroline.
“I think he does a fantastic job for that community,” he said. “That’s to the point of absurdity that anybody would think that” a campaign contribution would affect the way a case is handled.
In the Blanton and Ames cases, Latney opposed defense motions, by Murphy and Cooley, respectively, seeking bond for the defendants pending trial. A judge granted Ames bond, but not Blanton.
No, Latney didn’t oppose bond for John Ames, he was paraphrased as saying, “Cooley’s request for a $50,000 bond was too low and that if Ames was released, he should be on court-ordered pretrial supervision.”
In his letter to colleagues, Cooley wrote that Latney’s insurance does not cover theft but that Latney plans to challenge the insurer in court. Cooley wrote that the secretary, Sheila M. Boone, appears unlikely to be able to pay restitution to the clients and that Latney is ultimately responsible to his clients.
“We have long known Harvey to be a man of honor and integrity and an underpaid but devoted public servant,” Cooley wrote. “He needs our help.”
Boone was initially indicted in Richmond Circuit Court, but her case has been turned over to federal authorities. She is scheduled to be tried Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court on charges that she embezzled thousands of dollars from an estate being handled by Latney.