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Pinellas lawyer Slavin, charged with trafficking, stays busy defending others

Aaron Slavin, charged in July with trafficking, still represents clients in cases similar to his.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Aaron Slavin, charged in July with trafficking, still represents clients in cases similar to his.

Aaron J. Slavin is a lawyer in trouble. He was charged in July with trafficking oxycodone or a similar drug. If convicted, he could get a minimum of 25 years in prison.

But in spite of the allegation that could cost him his law license and his freedom, Slavin remains a busy attorney. Wearing a sharp suit and carrying a brown briefcase, the red-haired 33-year-old comes to court hearing after court hearing representing clients who, like him, have been accused of crimes.

Since his arrest, Slavin has represented people charged with trafficking oxycodone, possessing marijuana, doctor-shopping, battery, assault and other crimes. Some of these cases began before his arrest, some after.

Until recently, he even made regular appearances in drug court.

It's a strange situation, but not unique. Another lawyer, Byron T. Christopher of St. Petersburg, was charged in October with trying to bring oxycodone pills into the Pinellas County Jail.

Christopher remained in jail for about two weeks, which led to one bizarre Nov. 4 court hearing. One of Christopher's clients was scheduled to appear and like his attorney, the client was facing a drug charge. So Christopher was brought over from the jail, wearing his jail scrubs, to confer with the client. Christopher posted $26,500 bail the next day and is awaiting trial.

Slavin said he has obeyed Florida Bar rules. He referred other questions to attorney Gregory "Skip" Olney, who said, "His reporting requirements have been met, and he's in treatment. I'm not going to go into what kind of treatment."

Olney added that, "He's one of the best lawyers out there, and he has a reputation for being extremely effective."

But it has become the talk of the courthouse. Fellow defense attorney John Trevena said the first words that come to mind when he sees Slavin representing drug defendants are "hypocrisy" and "irony."

Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said it's very unusual "that he handled all these drug cases when he himself had a drug case pending, but there's nothing illegal or anything like that with it."

Slavin used to work for the State Attorney's Office in Sarasota. But he was fired in 2002 after interfering in a drunken driving investigation involving a friend, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported at the time. According to a Sarasota sheriff's memo, Slavin, then 25, was a passenger when the friend was pulled over. Slavin was accused of having "obstructed a DUI investigation" by telling his friend to refuse a breath test and by answering questions for him.

Bartlett said he was aware of the incident when Slavin was hired by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. He said Slavin was very forthcoming and very remorseful.

Slavin did well as a prosecutor and worked his way up to handle gang prosecutions, Bartlett said. "The guy was very capable and worked hard and did a good job."

He quit in July 2008 to become a defense attorney. At times, he spoke against the dangers of prescription drugs. Slavin wrote an article for a website that was posted about a month before his arrest, titled "Another Day, Another Prescription Drug Overdose in the Tampa Bay Area." In it, Slavin asked: "When is enough, enough?"

Then, in July, Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrested Slavin and his wife, Eryn L. Slavin. They were accused of accepting 251 30-milligram prescription pain pills "to satisfy a debt owed by a confidential informant," deputies said. Both Slavins were released on $50,000 bail hours after their arrests.

Eryn Slavin was ultimately charged with possession, not trafficking.

Aaron Slavin was charged with trafficking more than 28 grams (about an ounce) of the drug, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years. However, it's common for prosecutors and defense attorneys to negotiate pleas in such cases, meaning Slavin's sentence could be significantly lower.

Hillsborough prosecutors will handle the case, because of Slavin's history with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

Former Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer said it wouldn't be right to prevent Slavin from practicing law. "If we say he can't do his profession, then what we're saying is, we're presuming that he's guilty," Schaeffer said.

On the other hand, she believes a lawyer in Slavin's position has "an absolute obligation to advise each and every client of his situation." If he doesn't let clients know, it wouldn't be fair to them, she said. What if he gets sent to jail before he has finished work on their cases?

Olney said he did not know if Slavin was informing clients.

When lawyers have been formally charged with felonies, they are required to notify the Florida Bar, said Ken Marvin, the Bar's director of lawyer regulation. They are required to notify clients only if they have been suspended or disbarred.

Marvin said the Bar has begun an investigation, but most investigations like this one conclude after the criminal case is over.

Slavin has been a regular fixture in Pinellas County's Drug Court, representing clients with drug problems. Attorneys in that court are expected to help clients get treatment and try to break free of addiction.

In that role, Slavin was always conscientious and well prepared, Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell said. "I never, ever had a feeling that he wasn't giving 100 percent to his clients."

She made what she called the difficult decision to let him continue representing clients in drug court after his July arrest. "I watched (those cases) very carefully. I made sure they were handled well."

But after Slavin was formally charged on Nov. 8, she said she informed Slavin that it would not be appropriate for him to continue representing drug court clients.

Times staff writer Rita Farlow contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8232.

Pinellas lawyer Slavin, charged with trafficking, stays busy defending others 11/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 27, 2010 9:54pm]
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