TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2015
By Ralph Cipriano
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Miller is having a tough time preparing for trial.
His client, former Philadelphia Police Officer Thomas Liciardello, has been held without bail for six months in the SHU, or Special Housing Unit, AKA “the hole.”
Liciardello, the feds say, is the alleged ringleader of a rogue band of six former narcotics cops charged in a 26-count federal racketeering indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property. While on their crime spree, the feds claim, the narcs allegedly used excessive force, kidnapped drug dealers and falsified police reports to cover their tracks.
The government in discovery has turned over to defense lawyers some 77,000 pages of documents on computer discs. But Liciardello, who’s in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, can only call his lawyer once a week. Liciardello also doesn’t have his own computer to review any of the documents that will be used as evidence in his trial scheduled to begin on March 30. Meanwhile, the other five defendants in the case are all out on bail and all have their own computers.
“You can’t prepare for trial like this,” Miller complained to U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.
On his floor in the SHU, Liciardello has to share one computer with 40 inmates, Miller told the judge. His client “stands in line” in the SHU to get access to that one computer so he can review documents in his case, Miller told the judge. The defense lawyer pleaded with Judge Robreno to let his client out off jail so he could prepare for trial while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet on house arrest.
“I’ll go to his home,” Miller offered.
Robreno, however, who has already denied bail twice for Liciardello, denied it a third time today during a pre-trial conference. The judge, however, did say he would talk to the magistrate assigned to the case to see if an “immediate” hearing can be held to figure out how to help Liciardello and his lawyer prepare for trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek didn’t seem too concerned about Liciardello’s lack of trial prep. The prosecutor told the judge he didn’t want to turn defense lawyer Miller into a pack mule, but that Miller always had the option of making paper copies of the documents and dropping them off for his client to read at the SHU.
But Miller said that the corrections officers at the SHU will not allow Liciardello to keep documents in his cell. They make the lawyer take the documents with him when he goes out the door.
“I couldn’t leave it with him,” Miller said about documents he has brought to jail. And the government has given him way too many documents to copy.
“We’re talking about 77,000 pages,” Miller reminded the judge.
Another defense lawyer in the case, James J. Binns, is spending some 10 hours a day with his client, former Officer Michael Spicer, Miller told the judge. “I’m lucky if I get 10-to-15 minutes” on the phone with Liciardello, Miller said.
The defense lawyer asked the judge to provide Liciardello with his own laptop so he can review the documents in the case.
“It’s crucial for trial prep,” Miller told the judge.
“I’ll call him up,” the judge said about the magistrate.
Today’s pretrial conference lasted almost 90 minutes. It began when the judge told the lawyers in the case that he was probably going to need some 200 potential jurors during jury selection, scheduled to begin March 16.
We’ll bring them in 60 at a time, the judge said. Lawyers in the case will pick twelve jurors and six alternates. When the case gets started, the judge said, he’ll whittle the amount of alternates to just four.
The judge wanted to have two spare alternates in case any of the jurors, or the alternates, come down with a case of “buyer’s remorse.” Robreno said his experience has been that after agreeing to sit in on a lengthy trial a couple of jurors will often bag out.
The defense will have 13 preemptory strikes; the government, 7, the judge said. The judge said that during jury selection he would give each side three other strikes.
The case is expected to last eight weeks, during which the prosecutor said he expects to call some 80 witnesses.
Michael J. Diamondstein, the defense lawyer who represents former Officer Jonathan Speiser, told the judge he has waded through all the government documents turned over during discovery. And Diamonstein has a problem.
“We’ve reviewed it all and there’s nothing there,” Diamondstein told the judge. “I don’t know what it is that my client did that was illegal.”
Diamondstein said that none of the government documents in the case even mention his client.
“He’s lost his job, he’s lost his good name,” the defense lawyer told the judge about his client. And the defense lawyer still doesn’t know why.
The lawyer said he was asking the judge for a bill of particulars, a motion that the judge said he would take under advisement.
In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Wzorek told the judge that there’s no mystery here. Speiser participated in a conspiracy, the prosecutor said. He was part of “a crew” that robbed and beat people, the prosecutor said.