A longtime Tucson defense attorney has been accused of overbilling the county more than $75,000 for his appellate work in the Robert Moody murder case.
Richard Parrish has been ordered to account for all of the fees he charged in the Moody case and to show why he shouldn't have to reimburse the county the money he's been paid.
Parrish's attorney, former Arizona State Supreme Court Judge Stanley Feldman, said Friday that Parrish's billings were appropriate.
A hearing in the matter has been scheduled for Jan. 22 before Judge Richard Nichols, who is the presiding criminal judge for Pima County Superior Court.
In February 2010, Moody, 53, was sentenced to two natural life terms in the deaths of Michelle Malone, 33, and Patricia Magda, 56, who were killed six days apart in November 1993.
Moody's original 1995 conviction was overturned when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled the judge in the case erred by allowing Moody to represent himself. He was convicted again in 2001 and sentenced to death. That sentence was set aside in 2002 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided judges should not determine punishment in capital cases.
Anticipating long delays before getting to a new sentencing hearing, the Pima County Attorney's Office decided not to seek the death penalty again and Moody agreed to serve two life terms.
The Pima County Office of Court Appointed Counsel assigned Parrish to review Moody's second trial shortly after his February 2010 sentencing to see if he had grounds for an appeal.
Parrish billed Pima County $77,616 between March 31, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011, in the Moody case, according to court documents.
In March 2012, Bob Hirsh replaced Lindy Funkhouser as the director of the Office of Court Appointed Counsel and began reviewing and verifying bills presented to the office.
On Oct. 9, 2012, Hirsh sent Parrish a letter indicating he believed only $1,519 of the $77, 616 he'd billed was legitimate.
Hirsh further alleged Parrish hadn't read the 120 volumes of trial transcripts from Moody's second trial - even though Parrish indicted on two separate occasions in 2010 he was working on a draft of a post-conviction relief petition.
"The review and reading of the trial transcripts on record must be made at the initiation of the (post-conviction relief) investigation," Hirsh said.
In the same letter, Hirsh wrote of a meeting with Parrish in September 2012. During that meeting, Hirsh said Parrish first said he read the transcripts on the court's online computer program, Agave, but transcripts aren't available on Agave. Hirsh also recalled Parrish said he read the transcripts at the county clerk's office, but there is no record Parrish signed them out of storage; nor do Parrish's time records indicate a trip to the clerk's office.
In addition, Hirsh wrote that $39,354 in bills Parrish submitted were after January 2011 when now retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Clark Munger filed a stay in the post-conviction relief proceedings.
"In my opinion, your billed fees were both unnecessary and excessive," Hirsh wrote in the letter.
Upon learning of Hirsh's concerns, Munger ordered Parrish to "show cause" as to why he shouldn't reimburse the county in July. The hearing has been delayed several times since.
On Friday, Feldman said Hirsh and his department's attorney, William Walker, are just "wrong" when they allege Parrish hasn't read the Moody trial transcripts.
"We don't agree the billings were improper and we'll get a court to decide it," Feldman said.
Feldman also said Walker and Hirsh aren't arguing their case in the proper venue.
"They are wrong in the way they want to proceed," Feldman said. "(The county) had already approved his bills and now it's asserted its right to get its money back. They should sue him."
By causing an "order to show cause hearing" to be scheduled instead of suing, Feldman argues in court documents that Parrish has been deprived the right to assert a defense, obtain information and present evidence to rebut the county's claims.
"It puts respondent in the impossible position of facing contempt charges for failing to pay a debt that has not even been established according to law," Feldman said. "The procedure is highly irregular and improper and lacks due process under both the Arizona and United States' constitutions."
Feldman maintains Munger's stay did not prohibit Parrish from continuing to work on Moody's case.
Feldman also complains Hirsh sent a letter to Parrish on June 4, 2012, asking him to explain his billings, but the letter was sent to the wrong address. Because Parrish didn't know about the allegations and he was retiring, he allowed his malpractice policy to lapse on June 14, 2012, Feldman said.
"Thus, respondent is deprived of insurance coverage and a defense provided by his insurance carrier for any proceedings dealing with OCAC's claim," Feldman wrote in court documents.
Court documents indicate Walker told Nichols that Parrish himself filed pleadings in the matter on letterhead with the same address Hirsh sent the letter to. In addition, Walker told Nichols that Parrish never informed the county he was retiring, even though he was still assigned to the Moody case and his contract required him to do so.
Clients have two years to file claims against their attorneys and "no reasonably competent lawyer cancels his claims-made malpractice insurance for at least two years after he retires from practice," Walker told Nichols in court documents.
On StarNet: Follow the news and events at Pima County's courthouses in Kim Smith's blog, At the Courthouse, at azstarnet.com/ courthouse
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com