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In legal limbo

Former construction executive W. David Stoffregen, indicted in a federal corruption case ripping through Annapolis, has lost his lawyer.

Lawyer Barry Levine said late yesterday that he dropped out because the government has frozen Stoffregen's assets, leaving him unable to finance a defense. Lawyers not involved in the case have estimated that the defense, in a trial expected to last three months, could easily soar above $1 million.

Defendants in such a position, unable to hire the lawyer of their choosing, may feel less confident about their prospects at trial, said Richard A. Finci, past president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys' Association. "You may be feeling that your best bet at minimizing your exposure is to accept a plea," Finci said.

Stoffregen, the former chief executive of the firm Poole and Kent, was indicted on racketeering charges in October, along with former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell and the lawmaker's wife, Mary Pat Bromwell.

Tommy Bromwell, once one of the most powerful figures in Annapolis, is accused of wielding his influence to benefit Stoffregen in exchange for concealed payments and other favors.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

Levine bailed out of the case after a federal judge ruled that Pool and Kent's parent company, EMCOR Group Inc., was not obligated to pay Stoffregen's legal fees. Because Stoffregen's personal accounts remain frozen, the decision left Stoffregen--and Levine--with few options.

Prosecutors sometimes seek to freeze assets before trial, particularly in drug cases, arguing that doing so can prevent a defendant from squandering ill-gotten assets to which the government may be entitled.

Defense attorneys, however, contend that the practice has the effect--by design, many believe--of strengthening the prosecution's hand by limiting a suspect's ability to mount a defense.

In either case, Federal Public Defender James Wyda said he is confident his office could handle Stoffregen's case if it is so asked. "We have the ability to get the resources we need," Wyda said.

Eric Rich

By Phyllis Jordan  |  January 25, 2006; 3:49 PM ET
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