Friday, April 2, 2004

Lawson, ex-client trade jabs

Pettus-Brown seeks new attorney; plea deal rejected

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LaShawn Pettus-Brown has lost his girlfriend, his reputation and his freedom since his plan to renovate the Empire Theater collapsed more than a year ago.

Now he can add his attorney to the list.

Just days before his trial on fraud charges was to begin, Pettus-Brown told a federal judge Thursday that he wanted to replace his attorney, Kenneth Lawson, because of "irreconcilable differences."

An angry Lawson then said he wanted out of the case because his client was lying about his conduct.

The bickering went on for more than an hour, with Lawson at one point burying his head in his hands in frustration as Pettus-Brown accused him of refusing to take his phone calls and failing to share important documents.

"I don't have the foggiest idea what's going on," Pettus-Brown said.

"To have him come in here and tell that lie," Lawson said, "is one reason I don't want to represent him."

U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith agreed to let Pettus-Brown change lawyers, but not before Lawson and his client argued about almost every aspect of the case and revealed that Pettus-Brown rejected a plea bargain.

The deal last week would have resulted in the dismissal of at least some of the fraud and theft charges that Pettus-Brown faces for his role in Cincinnati's Empire Theater project. He is accused of taking as much as $184,000 for the project and spending it on watches, shoes, rap concerts and other personal expenses.

After the hearing, Lawson said the accusations his client made against him in court show why Pettus-Brown is in so much trouble today.

"Now I see how he was able to fool so many people," said Lawson, who had taken Pettus-Brown's case pro bono, or free of charge. He said he spent long hours on the case and spoke to Pettus-Brown regularly on the phone or in person.

But Pettus-Brown insisted Lawson had not served him well. He told the judge that Lawson did not explain developments in the case and discouraged him from contact with another lawyer, Regina Collins, who had previously represented him in civil matters.

"I'm worried about my current defense," he said. "The communication is not there. My life is at stake, and I want someone I can depend on."

Collins said Lawson had forced his way into the case to the detriment of Pettus-Brown. Lawson said Pettus-Brown called him first, including at least once last year while he was a fugitive.

Judge Beckwith gave Pettus-Brown 30 days to hire a new lawyer or to apply for a court-appointed lawyer if he can't afford one. She also gave him some advice.

"There's an old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen," Beckwith said. "You need to reduce the number of cooks in your kitchen."


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