Sherman's debts are piling up
By Lynne Tuohy - Stamford Advocate
Stamford defense attorney Mickey Sherman was paid at least $1.7 million to represent Michael Skakel, now serving 20 years to life in prison for the murder of Martha Moxley.
So why isn't Sherman paying his bills?
Sherman introduced only one expert witness during the defense case -- Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk, a 78-year-old retired medical examiner, who traveled from Houston, Texas, to testify. Jachimczyk submitted a bill for $19,574.90 to Sherman two days after he appeared in court on May 29 and offered his theory on the time of death. To date, he has received nothing.
"I'm still waiting," Jachimczyk said yesterday.
Sources close to the case say lawyers Richard Emanuel and David Grudberg, who did extensive research and wrote briefs and motions on complex legal issues, are owed thousands. Emanuel could not be reached for comment. Grudberg would not confirm or deny the debt.
"It's my policy not to comment on fee matters between us and our clients," he said.
Sherman signed an agreement with Skakel in December in which he guaranteed to cover all expenses for witnesses, court transcripts, travel, security and other costs from his hefty fee. Despite this, Sherman failed to pay court reporter Susan Wandzilak $7,600 he owed her for trial transcripts. Failure to pay this bill would jeopardize the ability of Skakel's new lawyers to obtain transcripts needed for his appeal.
Wandzilak said yesterday that she had been paid but not by Sherman. Skakel's brother Stephen Skakel went to Wandzilak's home just days before Skakel was sentenced and paid the bill in full.
"As soon as the family found out, they were wonderful," Wandzilak said. "They personally hand-delivered (the payment), with a letter of apology."
Sherman last night cited the duration and complexity of the case as reasons why there still are bills and paperwork to sort.
"It was a four-year prosecution and a two-month trial," Sherman said. "Obviously there were a lot of expenses, a lot of effort, a lot of people. If there are folks who haven't been paid, they will be paid. I don't think this is an unusual problem in such an enormous case."
Sherman declined to discuss his fee. "I would never get into that. I would not get into a discussion of what I was paid, or who was paid what."
He emphasized that his relationship with the Skakel family remains solid.
"I know people would like to believe we are at odds, and that just is not true," Sherman said. "No one is at odds with anyone here."
Sherman asserted that money, or lack of it, is not the issue. "Nobody is broke. Everything will be worked out in a reasonable period of time. It's nobody's fault, and I know people will understand that."
Sherman initially was paid an hourly rate to defend Skakel, who was arrested Jan. 19, 2000. In the fee agreement dated Dec. 5, 2001, Sherman stated, "I appreciate the fact that your resources are limited and it would seem to be in everyone's best interest to simply agree upon a lump sum payment, which would satisfy the payment of ALL future legal services required to defend you in this criminal case."
Sherman also specified that those costs would include outstanding bills from Grudberg and from Vito Colucci, a private investigator who has worked for Sherman for years.
Sherman is officially off the case now. When the new defense team of Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos on Monday filed motions with the Appellate Court to have Skakel released on bond pending the outcome of his various appeals, they did so "in lieu of" Sherman as the prior counsel of record.
Seeley confirmed there are defense debts but declined to discuss details.
"It's been brought to my attention, and we are hoping to resolve the situation," Seeley said.
She would not specify the scope of the debts, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss financial issues. Seeley said she does not know why the bills have not been paid.
"I have not discussed that with Mr. Sherman, although it is my understanding the outstanding obligations are his responsibility," she said.
Seeley, speaking on behalf of Skakel's family, said family members won't comment on the debts at this time.
Richard Brown, a seasoned criminal defense lawyer whose clients have included murder defendants and prominent white-collar defendants in federal cases, reeled at the fee Sherman was paid in the Skakel case.
"Without question, that would put it at the top 1 percent of all criminal cases in Connecticut for fees. Ever. Ever," Brown emphasized, noting that that would include cases involving fraud and racketeering charges brought against high-powered corporations. "And we're not even talking about an appeal."
Brown said the typical fee charged by the state's more experienced criminal defense lawyers in a typical murder case would be "significantly less than that."
But Skakel's was not a typical murder case. He was tried at age 41 for a crime that occurred when he was 15. He was not considered a suspect until the late 1990s. Police initially focused on Skakel family tutor Kenneth Littleton and on Skakel's older brother Tommy.
The only forensic evidence linking Skakel to the crime scene was the murder weapon -- a golf iron from a set owned by the Skakel family. There was no DNA evidence tying him to the victim or the crime scene. His siblings supported his alibi that he was at his cousin's house with several of his brothers, watching television when the murder likely occurred, but the jury rejected this defense.
-- Lynne Tuohy is a reporter for The Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Courant reporter Edmund H. Mahony contributed to this story.