The lawyer says he was screamed at by the judge's deputy.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Atty. Mark S. Colucci has apologized to a federal judge for holding a press conference in Cleveland when he should have been in the judge's court here.
U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus, in a show-cause order, instructed Colucci and Atty. Joseph A. Ferrante of Canfield to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to appear in his court at 2:30 p.m. July 30. Ferrante said he was unaware of the scheduled hearing and was in trial in Trumbull County, court papers show.
Colucci, who is assisting in James A. Traficant Jr.'s appeal, spoke to the press July 30 in Cleveland after the convicted ex-congressman was sent to prison for eight years.
In his response to Judge Economus, Colucci said he had a "good faith" belief that he could be back in Youngstown in time for the 2:30 p.m. hearing.
Colucci had intended to serve as co-counsel for Traficant at his sentencing. But after a conflict of interest was raised, Traficant, saying he wanted to preserve his appellate rights, did not use Colucci.
In December 2000, the lawyer offered tips to the government to win its case against Traficant, prosecutors said.
The sentencing began at 10 a.m. and the decision to not have Colucci serve as co-counsel was made within about 20 minutes. He then took a seat in the gallery, not at the defense table with Traficant and Atty. Richard E. Hackerd of Cleveland.
Colucci said he stayed because Traficant fired Hackerd at 12:30 p.m. and the ex-congressman might have needed legal assistance.
Traficant actually fired Hackerd at about 11:30 a.m. but Hackerd remained at the defense table.
Colucci said he also felt obligated to remain in U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells' courtroom after she began making her statement at the close of sentencing to prevent distractions. Traficant was taken away in handcuffs at 1 p.m.
Reason for statements
Colucci said his after-sentencing statements to the press were done, in part, because of the "vast national and international import" of the case and the appeal. He said that he also wanted to address allegations that had been leveled at him in court by the government.
In court, Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, told Judge Wells that Colucci had engaged in unethical behavior in the past and had filed a frivolous lawsuit.
Colucci said that when he phoned Youngstown from Cleveland and spoke to Judge Economus' deputy clerk, Suzanne Ray, she "proceeded speaking in an aggressive manner, screaming at times" that he was showing a lack of respect for the judge and that they had seen him on TV. Colucci said he listened to her "diatribe" and that she hung up on him.
The lawyer denies being rude to Ray and denies the quote she attributed to him. Ray, who wrote a memo of the phone call from Cleveland, quoted Colucci as saying, "What the hell -- I guess the judge will rule on it however he wants."
Colucci said it was not his intention to disrespect Judge Economus and he is willing to accept any sanctions the judge deems necessary.
In May 2000, Colucci was hit with a $1,000 fine to be paid to the Boardman School District, which had to defend itself against what a judge termed a frivolous lawsuit, Vindicator files show. Colucci represented a boy who had admitted making bomb threats.
In December 2000, U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent threatened to impose sanctions against Colucci for filing a "frivolous" complaint against Morford, which the judge dismissed. Colucci said the prosecutor pressured a Traficant farmhand to plead guilty to witness tampering.
Judge Nugent said he would not tolerate Colucci's "blatant attempt to use the judicial system to accomplish his personal agenda."
The July 30 hearing in Judge Economus' court, meanwhile, was scheduled in the civil case of Michele Colon (on behalf of her minor daughter Jackie) vs. Mahoning County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and Mahoning County commissioners. Colucci represents Colon, and Ferrante represents the MRDD.