Two prominent Orlando lawyers left former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer's defense team Thursday, citing irreconcilable differences.
Circuit Judge Marc L. Lubet agreed to let the men withdraw after assistant statewide prosecutor Michael S. Williams noted that a third lawyer who represents Greer has taken action without conferring with J. Cheney Mason and Donald A. Lykkebak.
Williams was referring to an alleged attempt by Lake Mary lawyer Damon Chase to get former Gov. Charlie Crist to change his testimony. Chase now becomes the lead attorney for Greer and says he is ready for trial.
Greer is charged with money laundering, grand theft and fraud in connection with money he received from the GOP while he was chairman of the party.
The defense attorneys did not elaborate on their reasons for leaving the case. Their affidavit asking for permission to get out of the case cited only "irreconcilable differences" that have arisen in the handling of Greer's defense, but the move came barely a week after prosecutors disclosed details of an alleged witness tampering attempt. Williams said those events left him unable to object to the request.
John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan, the law firm where Crist works, told investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that Chase called him in mid May and threatened to embarrass the former governor with questions about alleged homosexual conduct if Crist refused to sign a statement changing an earlier affidavit. Crist originally signed an affidavit saying he was not aware that Greer was collecting extra money for fundraising activities.
The affidavit supplied to Morgan by Chase would have recanted that earlier testimony.
Crist called the allegations the lies of a desperate man willing to say anything to save himself from criminal charges that could send him to prison.
Morgan and Crist both suggested that the threats were an attempt at witness tampering.
A year ago Crist gave state investigators copies of voicemail messages Greer left on his cellphone saying he believed Greer was trying to extort money from him. In those messages, Greer told him that he was very upset with Crist's failure to support him and advised Crist that he and his wife, Carole, would be hearing things "that are going to be very hurtful to you both."
Greer and Chase have denied any attempt to intimidate Crist or tamper with witnesses, and say they want a trial so they can prove that those who have testified against Greer are liars.
Crist is among a long list of high-profile witnesses expected to testify when Greer faces trial July 30 in Orlando. Others include state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon, former Crist chief of staff George LeMieux, lobbyist Brian Ballard, political consultants Pat Bainter and Marc Reichelderfer, and Delmar Johnson, former executive director of the state party.
Johnson and Greer were partners in Victory Strategies, a corporation Greer formed to collect money from the party for consulting services. Johnson has been given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony against Greer.