“Think Hard and Fast About Your Priorities”: Federal Judge Chastises Rep. Chaka Fattah For Not Paying His Criminal Defense Lawyers

Chaka_Fattah_official_headshotPennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah faced a rare tongue lashing from U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III over the failure to pay his defense counsel in his corruption and racketeering trial. Judge Bartle snapped at Rep. Fattah to get “your priorities” straight.

The Department of Justice brought 29 federal racketeering charges against Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and some of his closest associates. The counts detailed how Fattah allegedly diverted campaign and charitable funds to cover the cost of a failed mayoral run. He is also accused of using such funds to pay off his son’s student loans. The case could not be more serious for Fattah given the guilty plea last year of a top aide to helping Fattah divert the money towards his son’s student loan debt. Fattah’s son is awaiting his own trial.

In one allegation, a supporter allegedly gave $1 million in a loan to the campaign and Fattah arranged for a nonprofit to repay it. In addition to steering millions allegedly to other donors, Fattah is accused of taking an $18,000 bribe from an associate in exchange for attempting to secure an appointment as an ambassadorship. He then allegedly concealed the bribe as a fake car sale.

In other words, Fattah really really really needs a good lawyer. This is a very complex case involving cooperating witnesses and an array of criminal charges. Yet, Judge Bartle told Fattah that he is not taking his trial seriously enough and has been too focused on raising money for his re-election bid:

“I think you need to take this matter seriously and think hard and fast about your priorities.”

Fattah, 59, insisted that he is “a person who has lived a life without blemish, I don’t think there’s any suggestion I’m not going to pay my bills.” He insisted that he simply needed to put his current focus on raising money for the April 26 Democratic primary and worry about paying his lawyers later: “I’m not suggesting that I’m not taking this matter seriously. But one thing has to come after another, and you have to make rational decisions. We don’t think much of the allegations, but this is an important matter.”

In the meantime, his lawyers want out after not being paid for five months.

9 thoughts on ““Think Hard and Fast About Your Priorities”: Federal Judge Chastises Rep. Chaka Fattah For Not Paying His Criminal Defense Lawyers”

  1. Fattah has violated the number one principle of Law: pay the attorney first. This is true even in bankruptcy cases; especially in bankruptcy cases. But Fattah sounds like a real lowlife, so I’m sure that he’ll get reelected anyway They always do because the voting public isn’t happy unless they have a corrupt politician “representing” them.

  2. Re-election bid? Did his opponent strong arm rob the local girl scouts? The fact this guy should even be considered for reelection is astounding.

  3. Some folks are awfully judgmental both of defense lawyers and the accused.
    Handle some defense cases in federal court and see how it goes and then come back and talk.

    a couple observations:
    1– the right to due process is being protected by a judge when the judge assures a solid defense.
    2– without a solid defense, they will be filing an appeal or writ later on for ineffective assistance of counsel
    and that will be a big hassle all over again.
    3– politicians who lose elections face an even tougher battle in court once they LOSE their office than they had back when they had it. So one can understand his interest in getting reelected.
    4- as the super-bogus prosecution of Jimmy Trafficante showed, some of these “corruption” cases against politicians are just used as tools to intimidate strong and popular elected officials.
    5- the DOJ ought to work on putting some bankers in jail. in this country knock off a 7-11 you’re looking at hard time. steal a million with “corruption” you are looking at a serious trial and likely incarceration. STEAL a billion? They wont even touch you. Let the supposedly leftist Obama get busy on locking up some major financial frauds and let the chumps like Chaka alone.

  4. Well, he cannot pay the attorneys from the campaign funds, so what does the judge want him to do?

  5. This has been used in a movie, but I used it once in court in the ’80s in order to get a continuance, at the suggestion of another attorney with more experience at the time: “Judge, we are not prepared to go forward today because Mr. Green is not in the courtroom.” the matter was set for a date about 3 weeks off, giving Mr. Green an opportunity to show. Moves like this happen everyday in court. For those not familiar, think what it would be like looking over the shoulder of a doctor in an ER, that is what court is like for front line lawyers – just another day of blood and guts.

  6. The Judge has heard from the defendant. The Judge has to allow counsel to resign from the case. The Judge should not appoint new counsel but merely set the case for trial and let the smart arse represent himself. Afterall, he is a Representative. When he is in prison he can go back to court and seek a name change.

  7. The judge, himself, deserves a tongue lashing for not granting the lawyers, in this case, what I can only assume was their Motion to Withdraw–in essence, forcing them to continue representing a deadbeat client in a complicated and time consuming case. Why is he compelling them to remain on this case? Grant the Motion to Withdraw, which I assume the lawyers presented for his signature, and let this dirtbag go and hire another set of attorneys, where he will be required to fork over a substantial retainer before they will even lift a finger to help him. Would the judge work for five months without pay? No, he wouldn’t, and he shouldn’t compel others to do so either.

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