Judge reins in third attorney representing Matthew Stewart

Mar 6 2012 - 9:23pm

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Randy Richards
Randy Richards

OGDEN -- A judge is reining in one of Matthew David Stewart's lawyers, concerned about confusion among the three attorneys defending him.

Stewart faces a capital homicide charge, which carries the death penalty, and eight other felony counts in a Jan. 4 shootout with police at his home. Weber-Morgan Strike Force Agent Jared Francom, an Ogden police officer, died of his injuries, and five other officers were wounded.

Veteran Ogden defense attorney Randy Richards was first hired by Stewart's family a few days after the shooting. But that apparently expended the family funds, and at a Feb. 7 hearing 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde appointed public defenders William Albright and Ryan Bushell to represent Stewart, to be paid by Weber County.

But Richards has remained active on the case, apparently pro bono, and Hyde sought to clarify the structure of the unusual, three-headed defense team.

In a ruling Tuesday, Hyde named Albright as lead defense counsel. The judge also put it in writing Tuesday that Richards would not be paid by the county for his services on the case.

The Weber County Attorney's Office made it clear at the Feb. 7 hearing the county would not be offering Richards a public defender contract.

Court observers say friction has existed between Richards and prosecutors for several years since he represented two other death penalty defendants, Riqo Perea and Jacob Ethridge. Both avoided execution and are now serving life sentences in prison.

In his ruling, Hyde noted that Richards filed a request for transcripts of hearings held Feb. 1 and 2 in the Stewart case, which he granted in his ruling.

But Hyde wrote that Richards filed the transcript request without any involvement by Albright and Bushell. "It appears to the court that Mr. Richards is acting independently and without the consent or direction of court-appointed indigent counsel.

"As a result, the court is concerned that defendant's dual defense may engender conflicting motions, duplicative requests for resources, and, ultimately, confusion in the case."

The judge ordered the defense team to coordinate through Albright. "Any documents filed on defendant's behalf by any defense attorney must either be signed or co-signed by Mr. Albright."

The judges' stance comes after a news conference last week in which County Attorney Dee Smith rebuked Richards for filing motions that imply the county is hiding evidence in the case. Richards has filed half a dozen or more motions regarding discovery and other issues, while Albright and Bushell have yet to file any motions as they review the voluminous discovery documents that Richards claims were denied him.

A gag order has been requested by prosecutors and opposed by Richards. Hyde has not yet ruled on the request.

The next hearing scheduled in the case is a March 19 status conference before Hyde.

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