Friday, August 14, 2009
JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Larry Maxwell Gets "Max Of The Max" Sentence For Mortgage Fraud (Part 1 Of 4)
Two women sat upon one of the short, low, soft benches in the hallway outside Judge Chu's courtroom. They were apparently two of Larry Maxwell's daughters. One couldn't help but look at their nice clothing, their jewelry, their well-coifed hair and think: where did those resources come from?
The rumor among the anti-Maxwell crowd was this: Maxwell had fired his defense attorney, Larry Reed. Maxwell might be representing himself at this sentencing hearing...
But when the victims and their tight crowd of supporters entered the court room, Larry Reed was sitting at the defense table. Reed was looking no more and no less pensive and pissed off than usual, a lanky GQ fashion plate as usual. In the spectator gallery, Melonie Michaels--the spunky, spitfire wife of identity theft victim John Foster, the woman whose amatuer investigation ripped the lid off a massive snake pit of mortgage fraud--clutched a 10 page, handwritten document. It was her victim statement, written in a neat cursive. Even the capital letters, I noticed, were of modest size.
Others attending the "Larry Maxwell Send Off Party" included old and new faces: investigator Cory Cardenas from the Bloomington Police Department, another investigator who previously asked me not to photograph or identify him, Realtor Janet Havlish and her daughter, Jenna Havlish, and Melonie Michaels' daugher, Chelsea Michaels.
It was like "take your daughter to court day." Jenna runs her own spray-tanning business. Chelsea tries to get through college despite having her parents' credit wiped out. Both the daughters are lovely young women who looked out-of-place in the court room. On the other side sat Maxwell's family, one of whom was periodicaly "eye jacking" Cory Cardenas, according to Cardenas, seated right behind me.
"Does that mean giving you a mean look?" I asked, and Cardenas confirmed that's what "eye jacking" meant. I checked "urban dictionary dot com" later. Huh. Not there. I checked Google. Not there, at least not in the way Cardenas was using the phrase.
That Cardenas is creative.
Brannon Stephany, a court clerk, approached Larry Reed and prosecutor Brad Johnson to relay a request by Judge Chu to come back to chambers. Reed promptly announced he was not going back to chambers and would have "no conversation without Mr. Maxwell present." I couldn't help but notice how Reed managed to avoid words like "my client" or "representing."
Brad Johnson slid out of his chair with that little smirk of his and obediently followed Mr. Staphany back to chambers. Johnson had a blue suit and--my word!--shiny green tie the color of lime sherbet. The 7-week trial had been a 7-course dinner, but now sentencing was...
"Who does he remind me of?" Jenna Havlish asked me. Havlish--a pretty, willowy young woman whose hair and dress appears calculated to highlight the benefits of spray tanning, who has an amazing coif of platinum hair, dark blond roots left unconcealed and Celtic red highlights on the ends--was doing that thing people ALWAYS seem to do with Brad Johnson.
He looks like somebody. Somebody in the movies. Who is it?
"That guy on the Princess Bride," I supplied, helpfully. "The one who gets into the battle of wits." And then I imitated, helpfully, "Never get into a battle of wits with a Sicilian!"
Oh, yes, Jenna agreed. Of course! She put one lovely hand to her mouth and laughed. Times like these I love being a blogger, though the pay sucks.
Word is that when Maxwell was sentenced, Melonie and her friends had a "spray tanning party" with (not very expensive) champagne, and crackers-n-cheese and a banner that said, "Bye Bye Maximum Maxwell."
In a little while, Mr. Stephany came back, stood directly in front of Mr. Reed, and relayed a message: Judge Chu was ORDERING Reed to come back to chambers. OR-DER-ING.
Reed rose without a word--surly yet completely obedient--and went back to speak with Judge Regina Chu on behalf of the client who had reportedly fired him.
The victims and their supporters were watching, LOVING this. Oh, please, their faces seemed to say, let Reed get fined for contempt of court AGAIN. Wouldn't that just make the day PERFECT?
During the wait, Melonie Michaels pulled out her victim impact statement and began adding more thoughts to the last page.
"She's sitting there being impacted RIGHT NOW," I said to Jenna. Over on the Maxwell side of the room, two women who seemed to be family members were taking notes, intensely. Another sat with what appeared to be a Dooney and Bourke purse of shiny leather, like a big delicious plum. Busty, with a low-cut dress, she wore a dark black jewel nestled in her ample cleavage; Cleopatra before everything went so very wrong with Mark Anthony, before the asp.
Deputies entered the room, a harbinger of The Evil One.
"He'll come out that little side door," I told Jenna. "He always comes from there."
I neglected to mention Maxwell would be rubbing his wrists, too, with a grimace of wounded dignity as though he had endured terrible jailhouse cruelties to his limbs but he was bearing up bravely just like Jesus Christ, not to worry.
When Maxwell appeared he was dressed in a blue suit--not the lavender "Joker" suit, too bad--with a fat, well-worn manilla envelope stuffed to the bursting point with papers. Maxwell sat next to Reed but there were no words exchanged and Reed did not even look up.
When Judge Chu entered the room, she immediately addressed Reed and Maxwell. Reed said Larry Maxwell "does not need my services" and had made that known. Reed said he showed up because of a motion recently served--a restraining order on the disposal or transfer of assets by Maxwell--and Reed was "not sure if Maxwell had seen it."
Chu asked Maxwell, "Have you discharged Reed? Do you intend to represent yourself?"
Maxwell said he did not WANT to represent himself, careful not to say whether he was ACTUALLY representing himself. Maxwell said he wanted an "agreed dissolution" with Reed. Chu pressed Maxwell, saying there were two choices: Reed could represent him, or he could represent himself. The option of delaying everything until a new lawyer could be appointed was not a choice placed before Larry Maxwell.
Reed asked for time to confer with Maxwell, and Chu agreed. Reed and Maxwell went off to the little room on the right, the "handcuff room." A moment later Reed walked out and a deputy said, "They want to go to eleven." Presumably this meant the 11th Floor, one floor above. Chu agreed. Victims, supporters and Maxwell's family members sat, waiting, with Cardenas getting "totally eye-jacked by Maxwell's people."
When Maxwell was ready to address the court again, he said, "I am not legally prepared to represent myself." He said it twice. Reed said "I was in agreement to withdraw" so now "I'm not prepared." Reed asked for a new sentencing date. "If required to go forward," Reed said, he would need "more time."
Chu asked, "Is it your wish to have Reed represent you at this hearing?" Maxwell answered without answering, refusing to be pinned down to a "yes" or "no" answer. Maxwell said, "No disrespect, I can respond but I can't answer yes or no." Chu told the defendant to respond with his response, then. Maxwell said, "I need an attorney, but I can't be represented by Larry Reed" and it was "mutually agreed we are not serving each others' best interests." However, Maxwell wouldn't answer directly whether Reed had been discharged.
Chu finally said, "To the extent Reed has made a motion to withdraw, that is DENIED. It's not clear whether that (motion) was made, but if it was, it's DENIED." Chu then said "under Rule 502" she was appointing Reed "advisory counsel."
"I deny the appointment," Reed said. Chu told Reed to proceed. In the midst of a magnificent stream of cloudy rhetoric, Maxwell declared Reed "did NOT indicate that he did NOT want an attorney." Reed proceeded to complain of "an allegation by the state that Maxwell hid a car." There had been, Reed said, "No opportunity to respond." Reed asked for time to "familiarize himself" with these matters because otherwise "you may as well just let me go."
Chu said the "forfeiture proceeding is separate" from this sentencing matter and she "forbid Maxwell to dispose of any assets for 10 days under the statute." After that, Chu said, there will be a determination pending a final hearing. Chu and Reed proceeded to get into a spat over whether an "ex parte proceeding is allowed." Reed spoke over the judge many times.
"Don't interrupt me Mr. Reed!" Chu said. And Reed interrupted her again.
With rising passion, Reed said, "I'm unprepared to go forward as to sentencing" yet he was "forced to stay as advisory counsel."
"Are we out for justice?" Maxwell argued. "Or just to get Larry Maxwell off the street?"
"Stop!" Chu said.
In the spectator gallery, victims and supporters looked at each other and agreed that "justice" had a wide area of overlap with "getting Larry Maxwell off the street."
To be continued...