LARGO — The Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender’s office on Tuesday withdrew from one of Tampa Bay’s most high-profile murder cases.
The office, which is appointed to represent clients who can’t afford a lawyer, said in court documents that an ethical conflict precluded it from representing Shelby Nealy, who stands accused of killing his wife and three of her family members.
But Chief Assistant Public Defender Greg Williams declined to elaborate further during a Tuesday morning hearing — nor does he have to. Some ethical conflicts are clear, such as when, say, the office represents both a defendant and a witness in the same case. But in this case, Williams said, the conflict arose under the umbrella of attorney-client privilege, precluding him from sharing more details.
“I don’t think I have any choice if that’s what they’re saying,” Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone said Tuesday before granting the defense’s motion to withdraw, which was filed Sept. 24.
Two private attorneys, Tania Alavi, who has offices in Gainesville and Ocala, and Clearwater attorney Bjorn Brunvand will take over the case. While Tuesday’s hearing happened in Pinellas County, where Nealy faces the death penalty in the murder of his in-laws, Williams said a judge granted the same motion in Pasco, where he faces an additional murder charge in the slaying of his former wife.
Defense motions to withdraw typically aren’t heard in open court. However, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office took the unusual step of objecting to the defense’s request.
An assistant prosecutor filed Monday a written objection saying that the ethical conflict involved an employee who previously worked for the public defender but now works for the state attorney.
As evidence of the claim, the prosecutor, Christopher Billings, produced a letter from Public Defender Sara Mollo inquiring about the employment status of four such employees who had switched offices. The staffing issue “has no logical nexus to the representation in this case,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said in court.
But Bulone said the letter didn’t mention Nealy, and Williams said it was unrelated.
Nealy, 28, appeared in court in orange jail scrubs with a shaved head. He said he had nothing further to say when asked by Bulone.
He stands accused of killing his former wife, 21-year-old Jamie Ivancic, in January 2018 and burying her at their Port Richey home. For months, he pretended she was alive, but when her family grew suspicious of her whereabouts, police said, Nealy traveled to Tarpon Springs in December 2018 and killed her father, Richard Ivancic, 71; mother, Laura Ivancic, 59; and brother Nicholas Ivancic, 25.