Ward’s remarks draw rebukes from Ballarotto


Ward’s remarks draw rebukes from Ballarotto

August 18, 2012

Election Day has come and gone, but the rhetoric is still intense between the county’s ousted top prosecutor and defense attorneys in two high-profile cases awaiting trial.

Following his defeat at the polls in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward publicly accused defense attorneys of delaying cases until he leaves office in January in an effort to get more favorable treatment from his successor. The cases he cited include the rape case of the son of a former federal magistrate, and the burglary and assault case of a prominent resident whose family owns a major construction company.

Criminal defense attorneys fired back Friday, with one of them saying it was Ward’s disgraceful and unethical behavior that prompted his request for a continuance.

Attorney Joe Klock represents Hugh Warwick Morgan, 31, who is charged with sexual battery, domestic battery and burglary in connection with an alleged assault on a woman at a Truman Avenue apartment in December 2009. Morgan is the son of former federal magistrate and Key West attorney Hugh Morgan.

On Friday, Klock came out swinging, calling on Ward to recuse himself from overseeing the Morgan case because of the attitude the lame-duck prosecutor has taken toward the case — a reference to statements Ward made on US-1 Radio accusing Morgan’s father of removing or conspiring to remove Ward’s campaign signs.

“Mr. Ward has acted in a fashion that is a disgrace to his position as state attorney,” Klock said. “To make comments like this about a pending case is beyond attorney ethics. We did ask to continue the case until January, precisely because of his actions.”

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson, confirmed that Klock called his office Wednesday to arrange a teleconference with Miami-Dade circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie to ask that the case be continued until January.

“Mr. Klock said the case should be continued until January, citing prosecutorial vindictiveness, and the motion was denied,” Wilson said Friday.

The trial is set for Sept. 24 and has been since March, according to court records.

This is the not the first row between Klock and Ward.

In June 2010, Klock asked that Ward recuse himself from the Morgan case after Ward called Monroe County Judge Ruth Becker after she granted Morgan bail on a marijuana charge. The charge was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Klock said such conversations between an attorney or prosecutor and a judge without the presence of the opposing lawyer — called ex parte communications — violate The Florida Bar’s professional conduct rules.

This week, Ward claimed another high-profile case, that of Paul Edward Toppino and his co-defendants, has dragged on for too long. Defense attorneys Jerry Ballarotto and Don Barrett brushed aside the claim.

Toppino, whose family owns the Keys-based construction firm Charley Toppino & Sons Inc., is charged with felony burglary with assault or battery, felony burglary while armed with a handgun and misdemeanor battery in connection with a July 2011 fight with a tenant over unpaid rent at a friend’s rental property.

“I don’t care who the prosecutor in this case is, and as far as I’m concerned, politics has no place in the courtroom,” said Ballarotto on Friday. “This case is under the supervision of [circuit Judge Mark Jones]just like any other case on the docket. When the judge decides we’re ready to go to trial, we will.”

Ballarotto conceded there have been delays in the case, but noted the case is only a year old and that it is proceeding on regular schedule.

“The last time the case was continued it was largely due to a death in my family, and depositions had to be canceled,” responded Barrett, who represents the landlord and Toppino’s co-defendant. Barrett also noted that there are four attorneys involved with the case, which complicates scheduling.

The trial tentatively is scheduled for Sept. 18, according to court records.

Ward was defeated Tuesday by Democrat Catherine Vogel, who faces her former boss Republican Mark Kohl in the general election in November. Kohl was state attorney before Ward.

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