Judge: No conflict of interest

Defender Walsh to represent Post Falls foster parent

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COEUR d'ALENE - A 1st District Court judge on Thursday ruled that a contract public defender who has spent months representing a Post Falls foster parent - indicted for injuries suffered by two children in he and his wife's care - should continue in that role.

Last week, the Kootenai County commissioners voted unanimously against a special contract to keep Coeur d'Alene criminal defense lawyer Sean Walsh on the case. The Press reported that decision Dec. 21.

Walsh represents Jeremy M. Clark, 36. Clark and his wife, 28-year-old Amber M. Clark, were indicted by a grand jury last month. They were given separate defense attorneys.

A separate public defense contract is needed in the Clarks' case because of the complexity and the massive workload. Investigators spent nearly three years working on the case before the indictments came down in November, and the volume of discovery material is much more significant than in other criminal cases.

Walsh told The Press Thursday, "I am pleased that Mr. Clark can now put to rest the question of whether his Sixth Amendment right to counsel will be honored in Kootenai County. I look forward to vigorously defending Jeremy as the case progresses."

The commissioners said last week their decision was based, at least in part, on their concerns about Walsh being married to an attorney working in the county's public defender office.

Also, Walsh's law partner is married to a civil deputy prosecuting attorney for the county.

Walsh, who has a private practice, works as a public defender on a contract basis when conflicts arise for the county's public defenders.

District Court Judge Fred Gibler, while making his ruling Thursday, said, "There is no conflict of interest," in this situation.

County attorney John Cafferty told the commissioners that last week.

Essentially, Gibler ruled that the court, not the county commissioners, decides who to appoint to represent defendants.

The county's chief public defender, John Adams, told the court the Idaho state bar reviewed the case and that no conflict exists.

Adams also told the commissioners last week there was no conflict.

Gibler said if another attorney had to take over representing Jeremy Clark it would delay the legal process, and increase the cost to the county, as the new attorney would have to replicate the work Walsh has already completed.

The commissioners approved a special contract to help prosecute the Clarks. Private attorney Betsy Black, who is married to county chief deputy criminal prosecutor Barry Black, received a contract to provide help prosecuting the Clarks.

The commissioners said last week a decision by a judge would be welcome on Walsh's involvement.

"We weren't saying there was a conflict, we were just saying there was a perception (of one)," said Commissioner Todd Tondee, following Gibler's ruling.

He said the commissioners have no problem with Walsh being the one a judge chooses.

The commissioners just wanted to play it safe, and avoid any possible perceived conflicts, Tondee said.

The Clarks are charged with two counts of felony injury to a child, conspiracy to conceal evidence of abuse, and perjury.

Two-year-old foster child Karina J. Moore died in January 2009, days after the Clarks told police Karina fell down stairs in their home. A medical examiner ruled the case a homicide, citing "blunt force head injuries."

Indictment documents allege abuse by the Clarks wasn't limited to Karina.

The couple allegedly inflicted ice baths on a boy in their care, who was 4 or 5 years old at the time, court documents said. The couple also inflicted injuries to his body and head, documents said. That alleged abuse occurred between December 2007 and January 2008.

A trial in this case would most likely occur sometime in 2013.

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