By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
Attorney Javier Armengau will be in a Franklin County courtroom today to defend one of two men charged in a 2012 double homicide.
The fact that Armengau is awaiting his own trial on multiple counts of rape and sexual battery hasn’t prevented him from continuing a busy legal practice while free on bond.
“Why should I lay low? I didn’t do anything,” he said last week during an interview in his Brewery District office. “I can’t control allegations. I can only react to them.”
The high-profile defense attorney said the charges are part of a “personal vendetta” by the Franklin County prosecutor’s office that stems from the acquittals he has gained for criminal defendants.
The vendetta, he said, extends to a successful effort to have him disqualified from representing defendants in two cases this year. He said the prosecutor’s office “fabricated” conflict-of-interest allegations.
“It’s all designed to try to destroy me, destroy my ability to represent my clients and destroy my ability to practice law,” he said.
Prosecutor Ron O’Brien responded by email to Armengau’s allegations, calling them “ spurious."
Armengau, 51, is charged with sexually assaulting five women, all connected to his law practice, in incidents that date back as far as 1998. An investigation was launched after the mother of one of Armengau’s clients told police that the lawyer grabbed her breasts and exposed himself to her during a meeting in his office on April 4. The indictment, filed on May 20, was obtained by the Ohio attorney general’s office, which was appointed by the court as special prosecutor.
O’Brien said he withdrew from the case after Armengau’s arrest and requested a special prosecutor because “We did not want (Armengau) or anyone else to believe that he was being persecuted or protected because he was a lawyer with whom we are familiar and handled cases against.”
As for the conflict-of-interest charges, O’Brien said judges agreed with his office in disqualifying Armengau from representing the defendants.
In the first case, the Franklin County Court of Appeals in April upheld a judge’s ruling that Armengau couldn’t represent a man accused of being a leader in a prescription-pill ring because he had previously represented a man acting as a confidential informant in the case.
On June 17, Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown granted the prosecution’s motion to disqualify Armengau from representing murder defendant Beau Stephenson because he briefly represented Stephenson’s girlfriend, who could become a witness or co-defendant in the case.
Armengau maintains that he didn’t obtain any confidential information from the informant or the girlfriend. He said he will appeal Brown’s ruling.
He was succinct in responding to the criminal indictment: “I’ve never improperly touched a woman. I’ve never had a relationship that wasn’t consensual.”
A native of Argentina who grew up on Long Island, N.Y., Armengau has practiced law in Columbus since graduating from Capital University Law School in 1998. As a bilingual attorney, he estimated that up to 30 percent of his clients at any given time are Spanish-speaking.
He said no clients have dropped him as a result of the charges against him.
One area of Armengau’s practice that clearly took a hit after his arrest was as a court-appointed lawyer. His name was removed from the list of those eligible to be appointed for indigent clients, Administrative Judge Charles A. Schneider said.
Records show that, last year, he was 13th on the list of fees paid to court-appointed lawyers in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, collecting $47,841 from the county for 30 cases. This year, he has been appointed to just two cases.
“We decided not to give him any appointments while the matter is pending,” Schneider said.
Armengau’s law license likely will remain active unless he is convicted of a felony, said state Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel Jonathan Coughlan.
The Supreme Court can impose “interim remedial suspensions” for lawyers, he said, but rarely does so while criminal charges are pending.
Armengau expected to participate in jury selection today for Vincent D. White, his client in the double-homicide case. As with all the jury trials he has handled since his arrest, he’ll disclose to potential jurors that he is accused of a crime.
“I’m not ashamed by it,” he said. “I’m not embarrassed.”
The tentative date for his trial in Common Pleas Court is Aug. 20.
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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