Thursday, February 19, 2009

Budget Crisis Costs Defendant in Mob Boss Murder Case One of His Attorneys

Fallout from the state budget crisis is cropping up in the darnedest places.

A defendant charged in federal court in a mob murder conspiracy lost one of three appointed lawyers after a hearing on Wednesday. The lawyer argued her state-funded office is too cash-strapped for her to remain on the case.

Fotios A. "Freddy" Geas Jr., accused in the 2003 murder of organized crime boss Adolfo M. "Big Al" Bruno and facing a potential death penalty if convicted, lost the services of defense lawyer Stephanie Page. Page works for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state agency that provides legal counsel to indigent defendants.

Page said that as a state employee, she felt compelled to withdraw from the federal case. Her agency, like others with operations financed by the state, is reeling from deep budget cuts announced last month by Gov. Deval L. Patrick. "In light of the budget crisis, I felt I had to bow out," she said after the hearing in U.S. District. "I'm a full-time state employee."

Page represents Geas in a parallel murder case in Hampden Superior Court, and will remain his legal counsel in that venue.

David P. Hoose and Peter L. Ettenberg, both private lawyers who were appointed to the case, will stay on Geas' defense team in the federal court. The case is crawling along as Justice Department officials consider whether they will seek the death penalty.

Geas, 41, was indicted in federal court for murder in aid of racketeering, a charge that can trigger capital punishment. He also is charged with murder in state court along with Brendan D. Croteau and Frankie A. Roche.

Roche, the admitted gunman in the case, turned government informant and has offered testimony against others in the case. Prosecutors say Geas paid Roche $10,000 to shoot Bruno on Nov. 23, 2003, in the midst of a power struggle.

Like most state offices, the Committee for Public Counsel Services' budget was slashed when the governor announced $191 million in emergency cuts for this fiscal year and $871 million in proposed cuts for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. The agency's budget plummeted from about $186 million to roughly $158 million, according to state records.

Page is one of 200 members of the committee's Public Defender Division. The agency also pays thousands of private lawyers out of its budget for the bulk of the defense work it provides.

Thanks to Stephanie Barry

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