Former San Diego district attorney, current criminal defense lawyer Paul Pfingst will remain as counsel for a woman accused of murdering her husband, a judge ruled on January 3.
In November, prosecutor Keith Watanabe alleged that Pfingst had handled evidence in the case, specifically a “get-away-bag,” and that Pfingst advised the defendant’s father to “secret” that evidence.
On January 3, superior-court judge Blaine Bowman declared “there is no actual conflict” and “there is no potential conflict” and “there is not even an appearance of conflict.”
The court responded to a prosecutor’s request to decide if there might be conflict if the defense attorney was called as a witness during the same murder trial.
Watanabe suggested in written motions that if a judge did find conflict, Pfingst could be removed as defense counsel.
Defendant Julie Harper has been present for all hearings on the matter and was repeatedly asked if she wanted Pfingst to remain as her counsel; she told the judge that she did.
Harper was taken into custody in August 2012, suspected in the killing of her husband, Jason; in September of 2013, a premium of $200,000 was paid to post her $2 million bond and the defendant is now at liberty.
Before the judge ruled, Watanabe unexpectedly reversed his previous position and stated that he would not call Paul Pfingst as a witness during the upcoming trial. Jury selection is expected to begin in April 2014.
Judge Bowman opined that Pfingst’s alleged actions — removing cash from the “get-away-bag” and directing the defendant’s father to place the bag in a garage attic — were “not misconduct” but instead “overzealous defense of his client.”
The prosecutor claimed in court that Pfingst or his agent removed more than $16,000 cash from the “get-away-bag” and retained that amount. “It’s our fee,” attorney Paul Pfingst explained.
After the January 3 hearing, Pfingst made a statement: “It is sad to watch how petty and political that office has become. Any competent lawyer would have immediately seen that all of the evidence was properly handled.”