Runaway Train

Do the Locomotions

We’ve long wondered how the Swann Street defendants are able to afford such a pricey, star-studded legal team.  Four of the best criminal defense guys in town have been at the switch for nearly four years.

The billings so far must be staggering and there are many more miles to go.  There’s a complex motions schedule ahead leading up to the May 10 trial. Then there’s that long haul, expected to go a month or longer. Question:

If four freight trains leave the Moultrie Courthouse rail station at the same time and in the same direction, all hurtling down the track at $600 an hour, what will the total fare be by the time they all arrive, at a verdict?

Or: Hourly rate x 20 some-odd billable days x 4 attorneys = Yipes Stripes!

Some insiders have guessed that the defense attorneys may have taken on this case with discounted billing rates or even a flat fee, in exchange for a larger payoff at the end, a nice bump from the publicity.

Paying the freight of this legal team looks especially challenging since as far as we know, at least some of  the defendants are still unemployed (more on this later.)

Joe Price was fired from Arent Fox a year ago and Victor Zaborsky left his marketing position with the dairy industry’s MilkPEP last summer…but of course that was then.  As for the occasionally employed and/or under-employed Dylan Ward, the November 2008 Motion for Pretrial Release said in effect he remains a ward of his family and, “…has very limited assets and income.  The brunt of the defense costs are being born [sic] by his parents.”

Without steady paychecks, the threesome have turned to less orthodox means to keep the trains running.  Also in November 2008, Price sent out this letter to friends and family, establishing his (or their) legal defense fund.  Lawyer Price himself made clear in that appeal, there are no disclosure requirements for the fund so it’s anyone’s guess what the take has been…and from whom.

No jobs and having to fund raise during a recession must be challenging.  What to do?  There’s always the  Miami Shores property to borrow against, right?

Maybe not; that train may have already left the station.

In 2005, Price and Zaborsky paid $1.27 million sold 1509 Swann Street.  They sold it in June 2008 for $1.47 million, netting a small profit.  Much of those proceeds may have gone to a contractor who was tasked with putting the house back together after the MPD and FBI had their way with it collecting evidence – tearing apart staircases and removing sections of walls, all to the tune of “…hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.”

Weeks after the Swann Street sale, Price and Zaborsky paid $715,000 for the two bedroom, two bath Florida home.  What they put down and what mortgage balance remains is unclear.  What is clear however is the steady slide in the Florida real estate market.  Last year, the home was valued at $616,000.

And Sunshine State real estate trends don’t bode well.  The home adjacent to the Price-Zaborsky compound sold last July; that three bedroom, two bath home at 558 NE 94th Street sold for the bargain price of $305,000.

Trends for the larger Miami Shores zip code don’t tell a better story either.

5 year chart: Home prices in 33138

According to zwillow, home prices are down nearly 30% over the last few years and the graphs are not heading in the right direction.

Are we under water milk yet?

                                                                                                                                                              We’ve recently learned from public records (below) that at the time of the Miami Shores purchase, both Price and Zaborsky also took out a $155,000 line of credit on the house.  In June of 2008, all three defendants were reasonably sure that indictments were headed their way and cash poor, so maybe these funds were earmarked for Grimm, Schertler, Spagnoletti and Connolly?

How far $155,000 can take the threesome is unknown.  Maybe not very far at all, and nothing but coach seats for the ride.  

And that note is due in June 2048.  That’s right, 2048.  There’s an old racetrack expression that says final times of races don’t matter; it’s all about the pace, and that “time only matters when you’re in prison.”

Can someone check those sentencing guidelines again?  The 1509 Limited may be making three additional stops.

-posted by Craig

BORROWER INFORMATION
Original Name:
PRICE, JOSEPH (SINGLE OR UNMARRIED MAN)
ZABORSKY, VICTOR (SINGLE OR UNMARRIED MAN)

Standardized Name:
PRICE, JOSEPH
ZABORSKY, VICTOR

PROPERTY INFORMATION
Original Property Address:  550 NE 94TH ST  MIAMI SHORES, FL 33138
Standardized Property Address:  FL
Data Source: XXX

LENDER INFORMATION
Name:  WELLS FARGO BANK NA
Address: 57104
Type:  BANK

LEGAL INFORMATION
Assessor’s Parcel Number:  11-3206-014-0940
Recording Date:  07/29/2008
Contract Date:  06/26/2008

Document Number:  XXXXXXXX
Book/Page:  XXXXXXX

Legal Description:  LOT NUMBER: 6&7;  SUBDIVISION: MIAMI SHORES SECTION #2;  BLOCK: 56

MORTGAGE INFORMATION

Mortgage Type:  NON-PURCHASE MONEY
Loan Amount:  $155,000

Loan Type:  CREDIT LINE (REVOLVING)
Due Date   06/26/2048
Rate Change:  MONTHLY

Title Company: ROBERTO & ASSOC TITLE

53 comments for “Runaway Train

  1. CDinDC
    02/01/2010 at 10:57 AM

    “in exchange for a larger payoff at the end, a nice bump from the publicity.”

    Hmm….this is exactly a high-profile case. But then again, they do get a head nod in the Legal Times here and there. Not exactly glowing publicity though.

    When we see that Motion to Withdraw by any of Bernie et al, we’ll know they’ve had enough and Joe et al can’t pay their bills.

  2. CDinDC
    02/01/2010 at 10:57 AM

    “in exchange for a larger payoff at the end, a nice bump from the publicity.”

    Hmm….this is exactly a high-profile case. But then again, they do get a head nod in the Legal Times here and there. Not exactly glowing publicity though.

    When we see that Motion to Withdraw by any of Bernie et al, we’ll know they’ve had enough and Joe et al can’t pay their bills.

  3. Clio
    02/01/2010 at 11:32 AM

    The trouple could have either an eccentric sugardaddy or a whimisical Auntie Mame contributing to their defense fund. Are all three now for sale as companions? If so, Dyl can show the other two “the ropes” and so much more.

    2048! I guess that’s when they were/are planning to get out of jail. $155,000 sounds like a little low to me, but Needham alone could match that and more. That’s why Dyl cannot be thrown under the proverbial bus: well, not just yet anyway.

  4. Clio
    02/01/2010 at 11:32 AM

    The trouple could have either an eccentric sugardaddy or a whimisical Auntie Mame contributing to their defense fund. Are all three now for sale as companions? If so, Dyl can show the other two “the ropes” and so much more.

    2048! I guess that’s when they were/are planning to get out of jail. $155,000 sounds like a little low to me, but Needham alone could match that and more. That’s why Dyl cannot be thrown under the proverbial bus: well, not just yet anyway.

  5. Friend of Rob
    02/01/2010 at 11:48 AM

    I would not be surprised at all if 80+% of the (non-hearing related) billable hours spent on this case have been spent by Joe working on the case himself.

    He is a skilled litigator and is more than capable of handling all of the motion practice with some minor handholding from his lawyers.

    • AnnaZed
      02/01/2010 at 1:13 PM

      I wonder what happens exactly in the mind of a person like a Tom Connolly when he really and truly takes on board that his client is lying…

      …all aboard!

  6. Friend of Rob
    02/01/2010 at 11:48 AM

    I would not be surprised at all if 80+% of the (non-hearing related) billable hours spent on this case have been spent by Joe working on the case himself.

    He is a skilled litigator and is more than capable of handling all of the motion practice with some minor handholding from his lawyers.

    • AnnaZed
      02/01/2010 at 1:13 PM

      I wonder what happens exactly in the mind of a person like a Tom Connolly when he really and truly takes on board that his client is lying…

      …all aboard!

    • CDinDC
      02/01/2010 at 1:24 PM

      Friend, Joe is a skilled IP attorney, with a smidge of criminal experience, but certainly not murder trial experience.

      Having an civil IP attorney handling a felony murder trial is about as useful as a carpenter doing your accounting. The skill sets are not interchangeable.

      • Clio
        02/01/2010 at 1:38 PM

        CD, Joe might not know just yet that he is not well-suited to do most of his own defense: let’s hope his arrogance wins out this time, only to lose the case, his “fortune”, and his freedom.

      • Bea
        02/01/2010 at 1:57 PM

        I agree with Friend that Joe likely does at least the first draft on most motions – while it’s true that he doesn’t have much experience, he DOES have a lot of time on his hands, and a decent lawyer can learn another field. It’s rare that a lawyer suddenly STOPS working enough in order to allow the change in focus. Still, of course, Bernie & Co. have to do a lot of clean-up as it would be (in my judgment) akin to having a second year doing the work. Maybe a third year. So perhaps not a carpenter doing accounting, but maybe an accounting major being thrown into the thick of specialized accounting. Can’t do it on his own.

        While perhaps it’s possible that the trio got special rates, it wouldn’t be dirt cheap, and even if Joe does a lot of work himself, the bills still have to be staggering – my guess is that they are currently $35,000-$50,000 for any month with a hearing, and $15,000-$25,000 for any month there isn’t. It adds up quickly.

        • David
          02/01/2010 at 2:28 PM

          Bea,

          So you estimated how much it costs the defendants during months when there is a hearing, how do legal fees work during a trial?

          David

          • Bea
            02/01/2010 at 3:25 PM

            Remember that I know civil stuff – perhaps there has been a deal cut for flat rate (attorneys, not experts – see below) or some ‘publicity’ discount, though I too question the value of such publicity.

            During the trial, each defendant would be paying the lead counsel $600 or more per hour, and likely at least one (sometimes more) less senior counsel $500 per hour – and that doesn’t count the folks back at the office preparing filings/preparing witnesses. Let’s estimate the in-office stuff at another $500 per hour (low). So each day would be $1,600 per hour, and that doesn’t just stop once court is adjourned – sometimes the junior folks will be pulling all-nighters. But if we low ball it at ten hour days, that $16,000 PER DAY. PER DEFENDANT (though by trial it may be that there is consolidation of at least two defendants – still think Connolly has to watch his back on malpractice as to Victor).

            If the trial goes for 10 days (very unlikely) it’s $160,000 PER DEFENDANT – more like three times that. For each expert witness – say there will be three (low), you should figure between $50,000-$150,000 depending on subject matter.

            If we say a relatively short trial of 20 days, $320,000 for lawyers, $300,000 for experts – over $600,000 for at least ONE defendant (see note about consolidation – the experts will likely be ‘shared’ to an extent). The three of them won’t get done for less than a million, likely much more than that – Needham is probably expecting to shell out at least the $600,000 for trial. I’m guessing he has to ‘pick up the check’ for the experts.

            So for the last year, at least $150,000, and between now and trial likely twice that (because of it heating up). They will try to get it postponed.

            I think Scott Peterson/Menendez each paid in excess of a million.

        • CDinDC
          02/01/2010 at 3:02 PM

          Good points, Bea. Maybe the carpenter/accounting analogy was a little harsh, but Joe turns my stomach, so I tend to be extra critical. LOL

          A suppose a learning curve certainly doesn’t bode well for the defendants though. :/

          Keep up the good work, Joe!!

          • Bea
            02/01/2010 at 3:27 PM

            CD, I am with you. And it would be hard for Joe to be objective in his filings – no doubt much of what he does in writing needs to be scrapped though I assume he’s decent at researching legal issues.

          • Friend of Rob
            02/01/2010 at 4:07 PM

            Has anybody looked to see whether Joe did any criminal pro bono stuff at any point in his career. It wouldn’t have been unusual.

            As far as the transferability of skills is concerned, Joe just needs help spotting the issues, once that’s done it’s a brief just like any other brief.

            • CDinDC
              02/01/2010 at 4:35 PM

              Another good point, Friend.

              Let’s just hope Joe is unable to be objective, as Bea suggested. He’ll narrow his view point quite a bit that way.

            • Nelly
              02/01/2010 at 4:36 PM

              His last Arent Fox profile said he did criminal law in addition to other areas, but that could’ve been white collar criminal defense. Most criminal law attorneys charge flat rates and would not give discounts. That would be what some recent law grad might do to get clients. These guys were bigwigs already. They didn’t need the publicity from representing these douchebags.

              • CDinDC
                02/01/2010 at 5:31 PM

                Not too long ago, I did some research re Joe’s criminal work. Only one case came up of any significance, and that was a conspiracy case involving import/export to a foreign country. No murder trials.

                Just saying.

                • Bea
                  02/01/2010 at 6:50 PM

                  Yeah, that and keeping his brother out of jail – petty stuff.

            • Craig
              02/01/2010 at 4:43 PM

              FoR: Price’s work for the lesbian custody case (Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins) was pro bono I think.

              And I recall that he also did pro bono for DC’s Central Union Mission on some real estate issues. Maybe another outfit too.

              To see Price talk law stuff, that Arent Fox / Lambda Legal CLE webinar is still online here.

            • David
              02/01/2010 at 5:10 PM

              FOR,

              While he may be able to learn the issues, does that mean he has a good strategic mind about this trial. Case in point — the motion to dismiss certainly didn’t come out a winner for the defense, and Judge Leibowitz seemed to lecture them on the basics of criminal law.

              David

              • Friend of Rob
                02/01/2010 at 6:18 PM

                I think Joe is following the strategic lead of his attorneys. All I’m saying is that the big-picture strategy points are probably 10-20% of the hours going into the bill and the rest of it is the grunt work of doing research and getting the briefing done.

                I’ve represented jailhouse lawyers with no college degree, much less a law degree. You wouldn’t believe how facing criminal allegations yourself can focus the mind. On the other hand, it causes you to lose perspective and think every argument is a winner.

                It’s the stinker arguments that have been featured in some of these briefs that makes me think that Joe has had a heavy hand in pushing them.

                • AnnaZed
                  02/01/2010 at 6:58 PM

                  Heh, heh, heh, “focus the mind.”

                  I’d imagine so, ha, ha, ha.

                  You know, I hope that Bernie Grimm is bored enough, greedy and lazy enough or plain unethical enough to let Joe in effect represent himself. Bernie seems full of himself enough and full of shit enough to think that’s an ok strategy. Let Joe shoot himself in the foot or whatever appendage is in the way; I might enjoy watching that.

                  However, Connolly and Schertler have a real obligation to make sure that their clients understand that Joe’s interests and their own interests are not one in the same (as I keep repeating on virtually every other thread). Frankly, I would have thought that one or both of them would have wanted to distance themselves from that pathetic (really bush league) motion to dismiss, but they didn’t. From the descriptions of the various parties (thank, thank you editors) it would seem that a whole bunch of people who should have known better actually thought that motion had some legs. Jeez, either they are not as smart as they are cracked up to be or they are (as above) lazy, greedy, unethical, full of themselves or full of shit.

                  As Bea points out, one or both of these esteemed counselors maybe skirting a malpractice area if they keep letting Joe commingle his role of defendant with that of defense.

                  • Bea
                    02/01/2010 at 7:40 PM

                    I agree to an extent, AZ, but don’t forget that the Motion was likely being prepped when they seemed to have a shot (under the old judge who indicated that the prosecution would have to do more than what Judge Leibovitz is saying).

                    And there’s the theory that if one throws enough “stuff” at the wall, something might stick. Ward and Zaborsky’s attorneys had nothing to lose by putting their names on the Motion to Dismiss – and possibly (tiny chance) something to gain. Remember that the jury will not be privy to whatever kinds of jackasses they’ve been prior to trial – no harm, really, except for the judge to realize that the defendants’ counsel is willing to sign anything. And they are used to that.

                    I’m sure that Needham is making sure Dylan’s interests are tended to – likely the only completely open checkbook right now. Joe is supporting Bernie (and allegedly the others). But Connolly has been the most vocal about separating Victor from the duo – I’m hoping that he’s held his breath while the silly Motions were being filed and dismissed (no harm) but that soon he’ll be sitting Victor down without Joe in the room and give him the undiluted truth. He’s likely been doing this all along but Victor, spineless bastard, likely runs everything he hears through Joe – not a wise idea.

  7. Bea
    02/01/2010 at 4:55 PM

    Nelly, what is your guess on the flat rate for this kind of case? So big time criminal defense don’t go the hourly rate route? Interesting.

    • Friend of Rob
      02/01/2010 at 8:22 PM

      In my experience, counsel do a back-of-the envelope calculation on the amount of time they’ll likely spend on the case and use that in calculating their flat rate. It’s more about predictability for the client than about saving them a huge amount of money.

      • Bea
        02/01/2010 at 8:59 PM

        What would your guess be for each defendant (and including experts)?

        • Nelly
          02/02/2010 at 2:18 PM

          I agree w/Friend of Rob. It’s not like McDonald’s where there is a fixed price for whatever you want. My experience is limited in that I only worked briefly for a criminal defense firm and did not get close enough to real action to know how much the partners charged for big time cases, but it was always a big flat fee, maybe in installments, but usually not. Most of the business was your run-of-the-mill assault, DUI, theft cases. Paying $155,ooo+ is not out of the realm for three big-name, stylin’ & profilin’ D.C. attorneys to defend 3 scumbags charged with conspiracy, tampering with evidence, & obstruction. It’s the experts who usually charge by the hour and want a big retainer upfront too.

          • Bea
            02/02/2010 at 3:08 PM

            My guess is that the $155,000 was a down payment and that Needham and Victor’s family have been paying a chunk per month. Don’t think Joe’s family has much to spare from what I’ve read.

            The line of credit was likely yanked but if they’d already tapped it dry then the bank can only get the monthly payments incrementally.

            Makes sense that criminal work is likely up front and continued chunks. It’s not like civil where if one loses you can still expect to be paid – they’ll be in the slammer and license plate manufacturing doesn’t pay that well.

          • Friend of Rob
            02/02/2010 at 3:10 PM

            If I had to venture a guess, I would say $300,000 – $500,000

            • Bea
              02/02/2010 at 3:37 PM

              For all three (and it getting divided into three firms) I’d say $300,000 each – unless there’s some agreement that Connolly will lie low until the “crossroads” of whether to break off, and maybe he’s $150,000 or $200,000. But the experts will cost as much as the attorneys if they try to cover as much ground as I expect them to do. And if Henry Lee is now off the list, I wonder if it has to do with a lack of cash. Dr. Lee isn’t working at a discount.

              • Friend of Rob
                02/03/2010 at 10:47 AM

                I meant $300-$500k per defendant.

  8. Clio
    02/01/2010 at 9:08 PM

    Editors, where did you get that sublime picture of a train wreck, which appears to have been taken in France during the Third Republic? The train appears to be steam-powered and not high-speed — just like Joe’s paint-by-numbers defense on the cheap, a judicial economy of his very own made possible by both necessity and personality.

  9. Meto
    02/01/2010 at 9:32 PM

    Ah back to Florida (appropriate time for this time of year?). Appropriately Turner Classic Movies just ran “The Way we Were”; I am sure the defendants wish they could return to the past.

    I don’t know where the money is still coming from, but I agree with the commentary that Joe is likely writing first drafts of motions. Also a flat fee is hardly unheard of, but even so this case has long term uncertainties for the lawyers. But the Line of Credit on the Florida property isn’t enough to pay living expenses and attorneys fees, so alternative funding is likely. Which brings us back to Dylan.

    Clio – sorry I have been busy with Caesar lately, otherwise I would have written sooner.

    Respectfully,

    Meto

    • Bea
      02/01/2010 at 10:42 PM

      I suppose it’s possible that both Joe and Victor have been doing work under the radar, essentially ghost-writing work for other attorneys/marketing consultants.

      I could see that happening with Joe’s connections, and he hasn’t (yet) been disbarred. Even if he has, he’d be paid at about a fourth on a ‘per hour’ basis than what he was paid as a partner, and no guarantee of hours and no benefits. A huge ego-deflator.

      Me, I’d like to see them all get a paper route.

    • Craig
      02/01/2010 at 10:49 PM

      Meto: Welcome back.

      Friend of Rob: Flat rate makes sense. Both Connolly and Schertler negotiated flat rates with Xe (nee: Blackwater) to defend the Nissour Square guys Slatten and Heard.

      Bea: If the status hearing are indicative of the workforce dedicated to the case, there is always a bevy of young (defense) associates in tow.

      Clio: The pic is of the 1895 train wreck in Paris’ Gare Montparnasse station.

      Wednesday brings a cool post from Doug and on Friday we’ll have the January 15 status hearing transcript, fifty pages worth.

      In there is the sparring on the motion to dismiss (Schertler, Spagnoletti and Kirschner), Judge Leibovitz’s reasoning for ruling against it and a lengthy discussion on Uncharged Conduct filings and the discovery deadlines. It’s a good read.

      • Friend of Rob
        02/02/2010 at 10:10 AM

        Don’t read too much into the bevy of young defense associates. Not at all uncommon for folks to tag along to watch some oral argument for training purposes (particularly when the only cost to attend is the Metro fare).

        • Craig
          02/02/2010 at 5:29 PM

          And there are other legal beagle mouths to feed in the (somewhat dormant) civil case.

          Spagnoletti helms that for Ward, but Price and Zaborsky have two hired guns from Baltimore, Craig Roswell and Frank Daily.

          • CDinDC
            02/02/2010 at 6:26 PM

            I think McDonald’s is hiring.

            • Bea
              02/02/2010 at 6:30 PM

              I still want to see big Joe on a bicycle doing a paper route around McLean.

              • CDinDC
                02/02/2010 at 8:23 PM

                He’ll need one of those wide “touring” seats.

    • former crackho
      02/02/2010 at 11:41 AM

      I wonder if they still have the line of credit – now that property values have decreased, many lenders have taken away lines of credit on properties whose value would be less than the outstanding mortgage/second mortgate.

      • former crackho
        02/02/2010 at 3:44 PM

        ooops…mortgage.

        • Bea
          02/02/2010 at 3:48 PM

          I think the line of credit is gone – though the bank can’t get back quickly what they lent out before cutting it off.

          • former crackho
            02/02/2010 at 3:50 PM

            And knowing them, they probably sucked it dry ASAP. I know Wachovia was quick to yank one that I had and never used, though I still have plenty of equity on my condo.

  10. Bea
    02/02/2010 at 7:20 PM

    Interesting side note, and not directly related to this post, but why did the Motion to Dismiss not seek dismissal of the third charge of “evidence tampering”? Is this a test balloon to see if the prosecution would be willing for them to plead to “evidence tampering” in exchange for dropping other charges? (I hope to doG that the prosecution does NOT, nor do I think they will).

    But it does seem strange in a shotgun, kitchen sink kind of motion that one wouldn’t try to kick out evidence tampering as well. Perhaps it’s dead to nuts that they’re guilty of that and didn’t want the prosecution to make public all the evidence it has as to such charges.

    Just sayin’.

    • David
      02/02/2010 at 11:06 PM

      Bea,

      As a legal strategy, I found it odd myself. One would think that an innocent defendant(s) would motion to have all counts dismissed. Saying that one count could stand in an odd way admits quite candidly, “Ok we agree the evidence is there for probable cause.” That is an amazing admission on behalf of the defendants.

      But even more its the tampering charge, which is a symptom-of-the-problem charge, not the problem. This could not have happen without the conspiracy or obstruction. Both are the roots that bloomed into the tampering charge.

      When Connolly said, “this was a bad day for the defense”, he is speaking about this motion, and how Joe’s legal analysis was eviscerated by Judge Leibowitz. You could see it on Connolly’s face. He looked like a steamed Maine lobster at a 4th of july cookout.

      David

      • Bea
        02/02/2010 at 11:47 PM

        Agree, David, about the charges. I appreciate your description of Connolly’s face – I wonder, too, if there wasn’t a sinking feeling that she’d NOT be quite as cordial/accomodating to the defense as Weisburg, and their shining moment had passed.

    • former crackho
      02/03/2010 at 12:50 PM

      Maybe they could come up with a crazy explanation as to why they found the need to tamper with the murder scene even though an intruder actually killed him? Lesser of the evils? But I agree, it doesn’t make sense.

  11. Carolina Morro
    02/04/2010 at 1:40 AM

    Maybe one of the defense attorneys also played with Joe and Dyl? Might make for a bargan– their silence for representation.

    • Bea
      02/04/2010 at 1:53 AM

      As in one of the defense attorneys representing a defendant for free because the boys are blackmailing them because the attorney had been a trick? I think it’s too far-fetched. Or maybe I’m missing your point.

      • Clio
        02/06/2010 at 3:43 PM

        Bernie is a bit shady, but he’s not that desperate for love. Spag could attract much better looking meat than our Three, and the others are not even looking. So, other than Dyl spotting one of the younger associates at the Crew Club “working out,” there can be no discounts for indiscretions here!

Comments are closed.