Hospital trial delayed by appeal
Published: October 29, 2012
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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal from Rodney Miller Sr. at Miller's request but is moving forward with an appeal by one of his co-defendants.
Jury selection in the retrial of Miller, a former Schneider Regional Medical Center chief executive, and two other former Schneider executives, Amos Carty Jr. and Peter Najawicz, already had begun in V.I. Superior Court earlier this month when the V.I. Supreme Court on the evening of Oct. 10 granted a request by Najawicz to halt the trial until an appeal Najawicz filed had been decided.
Earlier that day, Miller had also filed an appeal and an emergency motion for a stay, asking the high court to review the trial court's decision to deny his request for a court-appointed attorney.
The high court denied Miller's motion for stay, but ordered him to file a brief about whether the court has jurisdiction over his appeal and allowed prosecutors to also file a brief.
Last week, Miller withdrew his appeal in a motion that did not offer any explanation, except that V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston already had postponed the criminal trial, pending the outcome of Najawicz's appeal.
Miller, Najawicz and Carty are facing multiple charges in connection with what prosecutors contend was a scheme to steal money from the hospital. Their first trial ended in June 2011 in a mistrial, after a jury was unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges.
Najawicz's appeal is centered on the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds, as well as its denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal.
In an order dated Oct. 23, the V.I. Supreme Court dismissed Najawicz's appeal of the trial court's decision to deny his motion for a judgment of acquittal, but opted to proceed with Najawicz's appeal of the trial court's decision to deny his motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds.
That appeal will be heard on an expedited basis.
Court documents also indicate that Dunston has issued a temporary restraining order freezing assets that prosecutors contend Miller's wife removed from a frozen bank account this summer.
Dunston also has allowed Miller to return to South Carolina under new conditions of release pending the scheduling of the retrial.
In addition, Dunston issued an opinion that gave the reasoning behind his decision to deny Miller's motion for a court-appointed attorney.
Miller had argued that Dunston's denial of court-appointed counsel violated his constitutional rights. Miller argued that he did not have the legal expertise to represent himself and did not have the ability to pay the required retainer fees to hire an attorney.
Miller also contended that potential employers had refused to hire him because of the pending criminal trial, leaving him unemployed, and that his financial assets and real property are frozen by the government until after the trial.
In his opinion, Dunston states that he believes Miller is financially able to obtain adequate representation.
Miller had lawyers in the first trial, but they asked to be released because of nonpayment, Dunston wrote.
Dunston states in his opinion that while Miller is currently unemployed, there are no restraints on any income derived from rentals or leases of Miller's six properties in Texas.
Dunston also noted that Miller has had some incoming cash.
"For instance, until at least early 2011, defendant enjoyed a healthy income and was employed for a substantial period," Dunston wrote, noting that Miller had been employed for about a year and a half, then formed his own company and secured a contract for a period of time with the University of Maryland.
"None of that income was used to pay counsel during the original trial or used to retain new counsel," Dunston wrote.
The judge found that Miller had failed to demonstrate that he is financially unable to obtain adequate representation and contends that Miller "has simply made the choice to prioritize other financial expenditures over his defense."
The judge also states that he has repeatedly "warned and implored" Miller to get an attorney.
Temporary restraining order
The opinion also makes reference to an "informational motion" that prosecutors submitted, which the judge said suggests that Miller may be trying to hide the transfer and expenditure of restrained assets.
According to the opinion, that motion suggests that part of the money that prosecutors say Miller's wife moved from one of her accounts, which was restrained, to another account in July was used to purchase two vehicles, a 2006 Land Rover Range Rover for $24,204 and a 2007 Mercedes Benz S-Class S550, which was purchased for $34,000.
"The People's informational motion further suggests that defendant was the actual purchaser and negotiator of the purchase of the Mercedes, but the dealership was instructed that the title to that vehicle should instead be placed in the name of defendant's wife," Dunston wrote.
Dunston on Oct. 11 issued a temporary restraining order freezing the Millers' Range Rover and Mercedes, the funds removed from the frozen account and any assets they were used to purchase.
The reason that an account in Miller's wife's name was among the bank accounts frozen in the case is because in 2008, after accounts belonging to the defendants were frozen but before the men were charged, Miller shifted $1.2 million out of one of his accounts that the court had ordered frozen and into accounts belonging to his wife, mother and attorneys.
The assets were frozen to keep them in the government's reach in case the defendants are convicted of a violation of the territory's Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Dunston has set a hearing on prosecutors' motion for an injunction to replace the temporary restraining order on Dec. 6.
New conditions of release
Dunston also allowed Miller to return to his home in South Carolina to await rescheduling of the retrial under new conditions of release.
At a September hearing, Dunston had ordered Miller to surrender his travel documents and reside in the territory until the trial was over, after prosecutors alleged Miller had violated the terms of his release and posed a flight risk.
The new conditions of release include requirements that Miller report in person weekly to a probation officer in South Carolina and by phone to a probation officer in the Virgin Islands; a requirement that Miller provide a written waiver of extradition before he left the territory; an order that Miller obtain legal counsel by Feb. 1, and a variety of other conditions.
The order also requires Miller and his wife to show up in person at the Dec. 6 hearing.
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or e-mail email@example.com.