Tuesday, April 24, 2018

No mistrial in Fla. foster child slaying

MIAMI — A judge refused Tuesday to grant a mistrial in the case of a woman accused of killing a young foster child even though a prosecutor's law license had been suspended for months before the trial began.

Joshua Weintraub, the prosecutor who gave the opening statement in the trial of 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, was notified in August by the Florida Bar that his license to practice law was suspended because he failed to properly record continuing legal education requirements. Nonetheless, Weintraub participated in numerous hearings, depositions, jury selection and the trial's opening this week.

Graham attorney Michael Matters said the issue was much more than an oversight.

"This is absolutely inappropriate, unethical and wrong," Matters said. "There is no justification for someone practicing law without a license."

Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez, however, said previous court rulings have made clear that clerical mistakes such as Weintraub's were not the kind of law-license suspension that could prejudice a defendant such as Graham. The judge called it a "ministerial circumstance" and noted that Weintraub had actually earned more than the necessary 30 hours of education credits.

The office of Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday that the problem was technical in nature and involved a failure to record legal education course numbers with the Bar. Don Horn, a chief assistant in Rundle's office, said the issue was quickly remedied after it surfaced.

Graham faces a potential life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse in the case of foster child Rilya Wilson, who was discovered missing a decade ago. Her body has never been found.

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