A little more than a week after hearing arguments from both sides, United States Magistrate Judge Katherine Nelson today granted a request from federal prosecutors to disqualify one of the three attorneys on Mobile County Licence Commissioner Kim Hastie’s defense team.
Attorney Buzz Jordan, who teamed up with the Mobile-based Hanley Law Firm following License Commissioner’s November indictment, will not be able to participate as Hastie’s attorney during an upcoming public corruption trial. However, he will be able to participate in the pre-trial stages and consult with Hastie’s other attorneys outside the presence of the jury once it has been selected.
Federal prosecutors requested the court to disqualify Jordan earlier this month after correspondence he sent to Hastie following an FBI raid on her office in the summer was allowed to be submitted as evidence in the upcoming trial.
Though both sides initially supported the admission of the letter, it Inadvertently increased the likelihood Jordan — the letter’s author — would be called to the stand himself.
As a result, the government accused Jordan of “wearing two hats” and would likely be advocating for Hastie while participating as a witness.
Jordan denied those claims, saying he wasn’t a “necessary witness” and repeatedly stating he had no intention of taking the stand for the defense. He also pointed out the government originally requested the submission of his letter and appeared to be the only court party interested in his testimony.
Despite that, Nelson’s ruling suggests there would still be a potential for a conflict of interest, which remained a concern after lead prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Bordenkircher said during a March 25 hearing that the government would almost certainly call Jordan to the stand.
“Jordan shall be disqualified from participating as advocate for the Defendant at trial or in any way holding himself out as counsel for the Defendant in the presence of the jury,” Nelson’s ruling reads.
During the same hearing last week, Jordan suggested his disqualification could likely lead to reversible action if the case was appealed. He also claimed it would violate Hastie’s Sixth Amendment Right to the counsel of her choosing.
In her ruling, Nelson addressed those concerns but seemed to agree with prosecutors that two additional defense attorneys would leave her more than “adequate” representation and would eliminate the potential of confusing members of the jury.
“While the right to be represented by one’s preferred attorney is comprehended by the Sixth Amendment, the essential aim of the Amendment is to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant rather than to ensure that a defendant will inexorably be represented by the lawyer whom he prefers,” Nelson wrote citing Wheat vs. United States. “The need for fair, efficient and orderly administration of justice overcomes the right to counsel of choice where an attorney has an actual conflict of interest.”
However, because Rule 3.7 of Alabama’s Rules of Professional Conduct only prevent a lawyer who will likely be a necessary witness from “acting as advocate at a trial,” the court ruled Jordan could remain in Hastie’s corner until the case comes into open court before a jury of her peers.
When first requesting Jordan’s disqualification, prosecutors said they would agree to a one-month continuance “in the interest of fairness” if the motion to disqualify was granted. It’s unknown at this time whether the court will observe that continuance.
Jordan was unable to reached for comment on this report.