Conflicts of interest may delay retrial of three former Schneider Hospital executives
Published: March 14, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - The retrial of three former Schneider Regional Medical Center executives accused of conspiring to steal money from the hospital may get delayed again.
The retrial of Rodney Miller Sr., Amos Carty Jr. and Peter Najawicz currently is scheduled to start in May, but a judge indicated at a hearing in V.I. Superior Court on Thursday that it may need to be rescheduled. The three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, which initially were filed in 2008.
Thursday's hearing focused on potential conflicts of interest that the V.I. Public Defender's Office may have in representing Miller. The Public Defender's Office noted the potential conflicts in a request to be relieved as Miller's legal counsel.
The potential conflicts of interest - or the appearance of conflicts of interest - may highlight how small the local legal community is and how involved the case is.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston already has issued orders on some potential conflicts of interest that the Public Defender's Office had become aware of earlier. The orders were aimed at ensuring that documents dealing with Miller's case were kept away from certain staff members who had potential conflicts of interest.
However, in the hearing on Thursday, V.I. Territorial Public Defender Samuel Joseph pointed out more potential conflicts of interest, this time among some attorneys who sit on the governing board that oversees the Public Defender's Office.
For example, one of those attorneys sitting on the board, Leonard Francis, had at one point in the case represented June Adams, a former co-defendant who may appear as a government witness in the upcoming retrial.
Miller, who is imprisoned in Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo in Puerto Rico serving a 21-month sentence in connection with a tax fraud conviction last year in a separate case, called into the hearing by telephone.
Dunston asked Miller whether he understood the potential conflicts of interest Joseph had outlined and whether Miller wanted the Public Defender's Office to continue to represent him.
"I am very concerned about the Public Defender's Office representing me at this time," Miller said.
Miller said he still would be concerned, even if the court put more orders in place trying to address the newly discovered potential conflicts.
Dunston noted the difficulty with obtaining legal counsel for Miller.
The judge said he had approached several attorneys, but none were willing to take the case. He noted that the case involves thousands of pages of documents and numerous witnesses and requires a substantial commitment of time and resources.
The first trial in the case, which ended in June 2011 in a hung jury, lasted six weeks. The law firm that represented Miller in that case suffered substantial financial difficulties because of their representation, Dunston said.
Dunston did not issue an order on Thursday, and instead took the matter under advisement.
He then noted another potential wrinkle in the case - the possible need to reschedule from the current trial date in May.
"I know the thought of moving this trial once again is abhorrent to all involved in it," he said.
Dunston and the attorneys discussed potential dates later in the year, but those dates did not work out.
The judge said that the trial may have to be pushed back to January 2015.
"That's a bridge we will have to cross once I rule on this matter," he said.