Palermo in court fighting criminal charges & seizures - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Palermo in court fighting criminal charges & seizures

There's a hotly contested court battle underway between Sulphur businessman Joe Palermo and the state.  And it now, partly deals with an investigation that has yet to result in criminal charges.

Palermo was due in court on defense motions fighting pending criminal charges against him, including forgery and possession of stolen things.  His trial is set for September 29 before Judge Ron Ware.

But first off Thursday morning, the defense filed a motion asking to secure and examine items seized yesterday, including Palermo's computer.

Palermo attorney Karl Koch says the seizure of computers and files interfered with preparations for today's hearing and may have violated attorney client privilege.

"In my client's office, of course he kept all the materials relating to this case, all those emails back and forth to his attorneys and his copies of our papers and things and unfortunately those have all been taken by the state. You feel like those people invaded your trial preparation and it's a real serious matter," said Koch.

Prosecutors say between six to ten computers were seized, and that they have technical people to image items from the computers in order to return them. Also boxes of files were removed from the two businesses searched.  But all that's on hold right now. 

Defense attorneys say items seized were also creating problems for family members trying to conduct normal business activity.

District attorney John DeRosier says there's nothing wrong with the timing of the searches.

"It is a very active investigation and is pending right now. And that's why the search warrant was done yesterday. And that investigation is continuing and will continue over the next several months. The timing has nothing to do with today's hearing and what this is really all about is when criminal defense lawyers cannot dazzle you with brilliance they will try and baffle you with something other than brilliance," said DeRosier.

The handling of items seized will be resolved in a hearing  Monday.

Meanwhile much of today's hearing dealt with whether certain charges involving possession of stolen heavy equipment should be thrown out.

"The state still has to prove that when they brought the charge it was within four years of when the offense was committed. And there's no evidence now from which the court could find that," said Koch.

However, DeRosier expects the state to prevail.

"The defendant has asserted through his attorneys that he kept the equipment long enough, whether it was stolen or not, that it became his by acquisitive prescription, therefore it was no longer illegal for him to possess it," said DeRosier.

Judge Ware will likely decide that issue September 8th.

Palermo attorneys also tried to get the lead prosecutor, Hugo Holland, held in contempt of court for not showing up in court July 16th, even though a subpoena was issued. But the judge ruled in Holland's favor because he was never personally served with the subpoena.

Even though another motion aimed at holding Holland in contempt was dismissed, Koch asked him about the incident at issue, involving a conversation Holland had at a cocktail part.  The defense was trying to suggest Holland broke the rule of grand jury secrecy by telling an attorney that a sealed indictment against Palermo was to be unsealed.  But Holland, who was on the witness stand,  testified that attorney Whittington, said Palermo was his client.  Apparently, it would be permissible for Holland to discuss the case with an attorney representing Palermo.

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