Javier Armengau, who spent the past 15 years trying to keep clients out of prison, is likely headed there, after a Franklin County jury convicted him Monday of multiple sex crimes.
The 52-year-old defense attorney shook his head and at one point wiped his eyes as guilty verdicts were read on nine of 18 counts — one of rape, one of kidnapping, four of sexual battery, two of gross sexual imposition and one of public indecency.
Common Pleas Judge David W. Fais immediately revoked Armengau’s bond. Deputies took Armengau into custody after he embraced his two attorneys as his girlfriend cried in the front row of the crowded courtroom.
Fais scheduled sentencing for Aug. 12. The rape and kidnapping counts carry a presumption of prison. The maximum sentence for all counts would be 41 years.
Jennifer Coriell, one of Armengau’s attorneys, called the verdicts, “a miscarriage of justice in every way” and said an appeal will be filed. She said the accusers’ testimony included “a lot of inconsistencies” and the judge allowed jurors to hear “a lot of testimony that should have been kept out.”
Frederick Benton, his other attorney, said he was disappointed for Armengau, calling him “my friend and a colleague.”
The Ohio attorney general’s office released a statement on behalf of the prosecutors: “We believe this case is a significant victory for victims of sexual assault.”
Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Breyer and Melissa Schiffel prosecuted Armengau at the request of county Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.
The charges were brought on behalf of five women, all of whom testified — three former clients and the mothers of two clients. He was convicted of charges involving three of the women. None was in the courtroom for the verdicts.
Six of the nine guilty verdicts, including the most-serious offenses, involved one woman. Armengau was convicted of rape and kidnapping as well as four counts of sexual battery of a 46-year-old Venezuelan immigrant who testified that he repeatedly forced her to perform oral sex after she hired him to handle her divorce in 1998. She said she complied with those demands as well as two times when he forced her to engage in intercourse in his truck because he threatened that she could be deported and separated from her daughter.
The jury acquitted Armengau of four other rape counts involving the woman.
Armengau’s attorneys filed a motion for a mistrial last Thursday, arguing that the attorney general’s office had a duty to inform them that the woman had asked for its help with her immigration status so she could stay in the United States. In a response filed today, the prosecutors said they were under no such obligation because “there was absolutely no agreement between the witness and the prosecution” to provide assistance in exchange for her testimony.
The judge hasn’t ruled on the motion.
The jury also convicted Armengau of one count each of gross sexual imposition and public indecency involving Catherine Collins, the 43-year-old mother of a client. She testified that Armengau grabbed her breast and exposed himself to her on April 4, 2013, when they met at his Brewery District office to discuss her son’s murder case. He was found not guilty of kidnapping her during the assault by restraining her.
Her allegations and audio of secretly recorded phone calls and a restaurant meeting between her and Armengau led to his arrest last year. Although The Dispatch doesn’t usually identify victims of sexual assault, Collins told her story to the newspaper last year and agreed to be named.
The other guilty verdict was for a count of gross sexual imposition involving a 33-year-old woman, who testified that Armengau grabbed her breast and masturbated in front of her when she visited his Marion office to discuss her criminal case in September 2008. She said she filed complaints with the Marion police and the Ohio Supreme Court, and a new attorney was appointed for her.
The Supreme Court disciplinary counsel was unable to substantiate the complaint, and a police report wasn’t introduced at trial.
The jurors acquitted Armengau of charges related to a 49-year-old woman who testified that he forced her to perform oral sex in a courthouse conference room after her son was sentenced to prison in August 2008 and a 38-year-old woman who said Armengau forced her to perform oral sex dozens of times during the years he represented her in legal cases and she worked part time in his office.
The 49-year-old woman also testified that Armengau tried to get her to perform oral sex on Judge Richard A. Frye, who was handling her son’s cases, at the lawyer’s office on the night before sentencing. That accusation did not result in a criminal charge, but Frye testified for the defense, saying he had never been to Armengau’s office and calling prosecutors “reckless” for including the allegation in their case.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about 11 hours over parts of three days after hearing more than three weeks of testimony. The jurors left the courthouse shortly after their verdicts were announced, declining to speak to the attorneys or reporters.
Armengau testified for nearly 12 hours over three days, denying the allegations and insisting that he was the victim of a personal vendetta by prosecutors and police.
The felony convictions can be the basis of an interim suspension of his law license once the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline receives a certified copy of the judgment entry, said Joseph Caligiuri, chief assistant disciplinary counsel.
The Columbus Bar Association filed a motion on June 20 asking the Supreme Court to immediately suspend Armengau’s license. The court hasn’t ruled on the request.
By John Futty - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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