District Judge Todd Russell on Tuesday rejected the DA’s demand the Public Defender’s office be held in contempt for delivering a letter by a defendant to his victim in violation of a “no contact” order.
PD’s investigator Margaret Judge hand delivered the letter from Jeremy Wilson to Mary Lou Miller, who pleaded guilty to robbing the her by grabbing her purse and running.
She testified she didn’t read the letter for three days after it was delivered to her home because “I didn’t want to.”
“I read it and needless to say, it upset me,” she said.
PD Karin Kreizenbeck told Russell the victim originally told her office she would leave sentencing up to the court but, after he entered a guilty plea, the presentence report indicated she had changed her mind and wanted Wilson to serve the maximum sentence.
She told Russell public defense attorney Mihaela Neagos didn’t write the letter, that it was part of the documentation provided to both sides by Parole and Probation and Wilson didn’t have anything to do with sending the letter to the victim.
“Miss Neagos did not attempt to violate the order,” she said.
She said it was “her duty to help Miss Miller understand so she made the tactical decision to provide the letter to Miss Miller.”
Russell’s response was: “What part of that doesn’t violate the court’s order?”
“She was not acting as an agent of the defendant,” said Kreizenbeck. “Miss Neagos provided what she felt was a court document.”
“The reason she provided the letter was to dissuade Miss Miller from asking for the max,” said District Attorney Neil Rombardo.
He said that’s a clear violation of the court’s no contact order and a clear violation of the law designed to protect victims — primarily in domestic battery cases — from undue pressure from defense lawyers.
“He can’t have contact with her and you can’t use your lawyer to violate it,” Rombardo said.
Russell said lawyers cannot assist clients in contacting victims but he said to hold her and the office in contempt requires “willfulness.”
“Miss Neagos, I don’t know what your intent was but it wasn’t good,” said Russell. “Intentional or unintentional, there was a violation. I think poor judgment it was but I don’t think it was willful.”
“I’m not going to hold anybody in contempt, I’m just not going to do it,” he said. “But don’t do it again.”
Rombardo said afterward the situation was a clear violation of ethical rules guiding lawyers and while he respects the court’s right to decide the issue he believes it was a clearly willful violation of the law.
He said it wasn’t accidental or involuntary but deliberate and voluntary.
“The whole purpose was to dissuade her testimony and that’s willful,” he said.
Wilson’s sentencing was put off for two weeks after the issue surrounding the letter was raised. Russell appointed conflict counsel Mike Novi to handle sentencing so Wilson’s situation isn’t impacted by what the PD’s office did.