Johnny Doc’s lawyers ask to drop his case as two trials loom

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John J. Dougherty has confidently predicted that he will be acquitted in his federal trials for embezzlement and extortion. But trouble is brewing between the former union leader and the legal team that has been representing him for years.

He refused to speak to his lead attorney, Henry E. Hockeimer Jr., for nearly a month — including on one occasion in July when they were in the same room, according to court documents.

And on Wednesday, Hockeimer and four other attorneys from the Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr law firm, which has represented Dougherty since 2016, asked the court for permission to remove him as a client.

“Ballard Spahr’s attorneys have represented Mr. Dougherty for many years and do not file this motion lightly,” they wrote.

In the filing, Hockeimer cited “widely divergent views” on how to move forward with the two sets of outstanding criminal charges.

The first, involving allegations that Dougherty threatened a union contractor who tried to fire his nephew, was due to go to trial last month but has been delayed indefinitely.

The second involves accusations that Dougherty and five others embezzled more than $650,000 from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union he led for nearly three decades. He resigned from his post last year after his conviction in a public corruption case involving former city council member Bobby Henon.

READ MORE: Labor leader John Dougherty has ever more legal problems

Hockeimer did not specify in his filing Wednesday the exact nature of the dispute between him and his client in his filing and he and Dougherty declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.

But three sources familiar with the matter described the falling out as a row over payment of legal fees and a difference of opinion over whether to accept a plea deal offered by prosecutors earlier this year.

The offer would have resolved the charges in the two remaining cases – as well as Dougherty’s bribery case – with a government sentencing recommendation that the sources described as “generous”.

Hockeimer and his Ballard colleagues urged Dougherty to accept and plead guilty to some of the remaining charges, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions between the lawyers and their client.

Dougherty wanted to keep fighting in court.

He’s pinning his hopes on an issue first reported by his lawyers earlier this year – the government’s revelation that he had developed an informant in Dougherty’s inner circle who recorded more than 30 conversations with him before and during his first trial in November. .

Hockeimer questioned the government’s delay in disclosing the mole’s existence and raised concerns that the informant’s tapes may have exposed Dougherty’s trial strategy to prosecutors. It would be a potential violation of Dougherty’s rights, Hockeimer argued, and should call into question last year’s bribery conviction as well as the viability of the other two cases against him.

READ MORE: FBI informant recorded Johnny Doc threatening ‘rats’. His lawyers say it violated his rights.

Prosecutors maintain they did nothing improper and closely protected the identities of the public informant and Dougherty. They took the unusual step of encouraging the informant to continue recording Dougherty ahead of his trial, they say, for fear the union leader would threaten witnesses in the case.

The informant was advised in advance to avoid recording any conversations that might involve talking about Dougherty’s trial strategy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank R. Costello said during a hearing in June. And as an added precaution, each of the recordings was pre-screened by attorneys and government agents who were not part of the team investigating Dougherty to ensure that no confidential attorney-client information reached the pursuit team.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, who is presiding over Dougherty’s criminal cases, did not say whether he views the case as a matter that should bring the union leader’s conviction and future trials into question.

However, in a ruling last month, the judge ordered the government to turn over a host of documents detailing the informant’s work to Dougherty’s defense.

Hockeimer had not filed a formal motion to dismiss the remaining charges against Dougherty before the two fell out over the government’s plea offer.

According to the motion he filed Wednesday, he and Dougherty have not had “substantive communications” since July 29.

Schmehl, at one point, even sought to intervene, the filing says, calling Dougherty and his attorneys into his office last week and encouraging them to talk.

“Mr. Dougherty declined to speak with an attorney,” Hockeimer wrote.

Hockeimer said Dougherty has been receiving legal advice from another attorney since at least the end of last month, but did not name that attorney in his motion.

That attorney, Hockeimer wrote, made it clear that he was offering legal advice only and had no intention of representing Dougherty in his two remaining trials.

The court had set a deadline Wednesday morning for Dougherty to decide whether he could work things out with Ballard and, if not, who would represent him going forward. But in an email cited in Hockeimer’s filing, the other lawyer advising the union leader wrote that on Tuesday night Dougherty was “still considering” his options.

Whether Schmehl will allow the Ballard lawyers to step down remains to be seen. He is expected to schedule a hearing in the coming days to review the case and Dougherty may oppose his lawyers’ demands to drop him.

Dougherty’s next trial – the embezzlement case – is scheduled to start on October 13.

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