Prosecutors seek to oust attorney for Dalia Dippolito

State asks judge to revoke status of California attorney Brian Claypool

California attorney Brian Claypool (center) speaks to the media in January 2016 while Dalia Dippolito listens.
California attorney Brian Claypool (center) speaks to the media in January 2016 while Dalia Dippolito listens.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Prosecutors are seeking to remove a California defense attorney who is acting as lead counsel for a Boynton Beach woman accused of hiring an undercover police officer to kill her husband.

A motion filed last month seeks to revoke the "pro hac vice" status that has allowed Brian Claypool to represent Dalia Dippolito in her murder-for-hire retrial.

The motion, filed Feb. 1, also asks Palm Beach County Judge Glenn Kelley to bar the defense team from "intentionally trying to improperly influence the local jury pool with irrelevant, untrue and prejudicial information" before Dippolito's third trial, which is scheduled to begin in June.

However, in a response filed Feb. 13, Claypool, West Palm Beach attorney Greg Rosenfeld and Sanford attorney Andrew B. Greenlee wrote that the court should deny the state's "unabashed attempt" to deprive Dippolito of her Sixth Amendment right to choose her counsel and impair her attorneys' First Amendment right to free speech.

In the response, defense attorneys take aim at former prosecutor Elizabeth Parker, who was involved in Dippolito's first trial in 2011, and current prosecutor Laura Laurie, who worked on both trials.

"The prosecutor, Elizabeth Parker, wasted little time capitalizing on her experience," the response said. "In February of 2014, while Ms. Dippolito's case was still pending on appeal, Parker released a book entitled 'Poison Candy: The Murderous Madam: Inside Dalia Dippolito's Plot to Kill.'"

Defense attorneys wrote that the book's back cover "states that the book reveals 'juicy tidbits banned from the courtroom.'"

They also chastised Laurie for celebrating Parker's book-signing event with her.

"In a Facebook post, Ms. Laurie also commented that she 'can't wait' to 'relive' the experience of prosecuting Ms. Dippolito," the response said.

Dippolito, 34, is accused of paying an undercover police officer, who was posing as a hit man, to kill her husband in 2009. The Boynton Beach Police Department staged a crime scene and recorded her reaction on the day her husband was supposed to be killed.

She was convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in 2011 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction in 2014.

Prosecutors alleged that Dippolito offered an undercover officer $7,000 to kill her then-husband.

Defense attorneys claimed that the Boynton Beach Police Department wanted to gain attention by soliciting the "Cops" television show and violated Dippolito's constitutional rights by setting her up with the help of former lover Mohamed Shihadeh, who became a confidential informant for police.

Her second trial last year ended in a mistrial, with the jury deadlocked 3-3.

Dalia Dippolito walks out of the Palm Beach County courthouse after a mistrial was declared.
Dalia Dippolito walks out of the Palm Beach County courthouse after a mistrial was declared.

Claypool, who agreed to represent Dippolito pro bono, is not licensed to practice law in Florida but was granted special permission to appear in court by Kelley, who can revoke the status at any time.

Defense attorneys said it was Rosenfeld -- not Claypool -- who referred to the prosecution as "politically motivated." They said Claypool's comments -- that the "taxpayers of Palm Beach County should not have to bear the price tag associated with the state prosecutors trying to save face and make a personal example out of Ms. Dippolito" -- should be protected under the First Amendment.

Dippolito's attorneys blamed the prosecution for causing the pretrial publicity. Again, they pointed to Parker, "who remains an attorney of record in this case and frequently comments about this case in the media." They also cited assistant state attorney Craig Williams, who was the lead prosecutor in last year's retrial and whose wife works as a local television anchor.

Defense attorneys said the prosecution "has utterly failed to carry the burden required to justify the issuance of a pretrial gag order that would restrict any and all speech of Ms. Dippolito's attorneys in the months leading up to her trial."

The most recent response from the state, filed Tuesday, criticizes the defense for "irrelevant and unfounded attacks upon past and present employees of the state attorney's office."

Williams wrote that the defense team's "extrajudicial comments serve but one improper purpose: to precondition the jury pool."

"The jurors in the June 2017 retrial must not decide the case based on anger toward the prosecutors, sympathy for Ms. Dippolito or any consideration of the sentence," Williams wrote.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Friday.

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