Mistrial sought in Fla. foster child slaying
MIAMI (AP) -- Defense attorneys asked for a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a woman accused of killing a young foster child because a prosecutor's law license had been suspended for months before the trial began. There was no immediate ruling from the presiding judge.
Joshua Weintraub, the prosecutor who gave the opening statement in the trial of 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, was notified in August by the Florida Bar that his license to practice law was suspended due to failure to meet continuing legal education requirements. But Weintraub participated anyway in numerous hearings, depositions, jury selection and the trial's opening this week.
Graham attorney Michael Matters said the issue was much more than an oversight.
"This is absolutely inappropriate, unethical and wrong," Matters said. "There is no justification for someone practicing law without a license."
The office of Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday the problem was technical in nature and involved a failure to record legal education course numbers with the Bar. Don Horn, a chief assistant in Rundle's office, said the issue was quickly remedied and Weintraub was reinstated as a licensed lawyer -- which the Bar confirmed.
"He is in fact eligible to practice law in Florida," Horn said, adding that Weintraub had actually exceeded the education requirements.
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez said she would rule later in the day after doing additional legal research. The trial resumed with Weintraub sitting at the prosecution table along with his mother, fellow prosecutor Sally Weintraub.
Horn said the issue only came to light after a Miami Herald reader -- who self-identified as "Bambi" -- posted a comment about Weintraub's law license status on the newspaper's web site. Horn said he immediately took Weintraub off the case temporarily until the matter was cleared up Tuesday morning.
Graham faces a potential life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse in the case of foster child Rilya Wilson, who was discovered missing a decade ago and whose body has never been found. Graham insists she is innocent and has claimed that a state Department of Children and Families worker took the child for tests and never returned.
The defense's opening statement focused on the lack of a body and suggested that Rilya, who would be 16 now, might still be alive.
The state's case hinges largely on the testimony of jailhouse snitches who claim that Graham confessed to killing Rilya in conversations with them.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)