Lawyers’ plea to quit Fattah’s defense denied by federal judge

 Congressman Chakka Fattah answers questions outside the Federal Courthouse Tuesday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Congressman Chakka Fattah answers questions outside the Federal Courthouse Tuesday. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

If the testimony of attorneys for U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah stands, their firm is about to be crushed.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle ruled that Fattah’s attorneys can’t quit the case, as they had requested. Withdrawing now, Bartle wrote, would cause “undue delays” to the May trial and “harm the administration of justice.”

Attorney Kevin Mincey told Bartle that since the 11-term Fattah hasn’t paid for his legal services, the five-attorney law firm has no other choice but to exit, saying a pro-bono-like situation in a case this complex could run Mincey & Fitzpatrick into the ground.

Bartle, however, is not buying it.

“They clearly entered their appearances with their eyes open and knew that this was going to be an expensive and time-consuming case,” Bartle wrote. “They do not and cannot claim surprise.”

Fattah has said he has made some payments, amounting to around $100,000, to the attorneys.

Other details of the payment arrangement have not been disclosed.

The judge cited a federal court rule, which says any lawyer who agrees to represent a criminal defendant must understand that the representation must go until the end of the case, not end midstream, unless otherwise ordered by the court.

In court, Mincey and other attorneys for Fattah argued that the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct allow a lawyer to drop a client if financial obligations aren’t fulfilled.

But Bartle said case law points out that it applies almost always to civil, not criminal, cases.

Bartle was also concerned that bringing on a new legal team would postpone the May 2 trial date. There are more than 900,000 pages of evidence as part of this racketeering, corruption and bribery case involving Fattah and four co-defendants.

“It is unlikely that new counsel at this late date could become sufficiently familiar with the facts and the law, comply with the remaining pretrial deadlines, and be prepared to go forward on May 2, even assuming that Fattah would act promptly and could find a lawyer … when he has failed to pay his prior lawyers,” he wrote.

Bartle also mentioned that Mincey’s team moved to make this whole matter private, but the judge denied that request.

In a sidebar before Tuesday’s hearing, Mincey and his co-counsel told Bartle that the discussion should happen in the judge’s chambers, out of the public view.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re tainting the jury pool because obviously reporters are here and they’re going to report everything we say,” Mincey said. “It’s going to end up in the Daily News, on the TV news tonight.”

Bartle wasn’t persuaded.

“It’s a matter we need to have on the public record,” he said.

Fattah has said all along that the federal prosecuction is politically-motivated and that he will beat the charges.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.