Lawyer conflict concerns addressed - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Lawyer conflict concerns addressed

Commissioners deny contract for public defender

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Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 12:15 am

COEUR d'ALENE - More concerns of conflict, or at least perceived conflict, have arisen over a criminal case involving a Post Falls couple indicted for abusing their foster child.

The Kootenai County commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to not approve a separate contract for attorney Sean Walsh to act as public defender for Jeremy and Amber Clark, whose foster daughter, Karina Moore, died of head injuries following injuries they allegedly inflicted.

The commissioners' decision was based on the recent discovery that Walsh's wife, Mayli Walsh, is an attorney with the county public defender's office. Walsh's partner, Daniel Sheckler, is also married to Lisa Sheckler, a civil deputy prosecuting attorney in the county prosecutor's office.

The commissioners acknowledged there is no legal conflict arising from the connections, but they were concerned that Walsh had not divulged the details in an earlier meeting with them.

"To me, he represented himself as a one-man office," said Commissioner Jai Nelson. "I had no idea he had a partner, let alone it was someone I'd met, or that his wife worked for the county."

Commissioner Dan Green agreed that if he had known these details earlier, he would've asked the county's chief public defender to find different counsel for the Clarks.

"The perception (of conflict) can do as much harm as fact," Green said.

Walsh had already been representing the Clarks for months, under his general contract as a public defender for the county.

A separate contract had been proposed for his work on this case, because the complexity and vast workload would not be adequately addressed in the general contract.

John Adams, the county's chief public defender, argued that the commissioners' decision was unfair, as Walsh's partner would not be working with him on the case and Walsh's wife would not be directly involved.

"I don't understand your objection. Because it looks funny?" Adams said. "People's lives are at stake. They need a competent lawyer."

Walsh also voiced that this could have negative effects on the Clarks' case.

"I've done a lot of work on this case. If you transfer it to someone else, all that work will have to be redone," Walsh said. "I've forged an attorney-client relationship with this client. I don't think it's fair to him."

Worries about conflict had been brought up earlier in relation to the case, over the county hiring private attorney Betsy Black to help with prosecution of the Clarks. Black is married to county Chief Deputy Prosecutor Barry Black.

The commissioners' vote on Tuesday has the implication that Walsh is thrown off the case entirely, the officials acknowledged.

It rests in Adams' hands to find another attorney for the case, Nelson said.

Adams told the commissioners he plans to ask District Judge Fred Gibler to assign Walsh to the Clarks' case, because of his knowledge and experience with the case.

The elected officials said they would prefer a judge make that decision.

"If a judge finds Mr. Walsh the best person, I'm not going to stand in the way of an order like that," Green said.

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