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Of rifts in Jim Greer's legal camp and sloppy, trashy Tampa TV reporting at WTSP

James Cheney Mason and Donald A. Lykkebak, two Orlando lawyers representing former GOP Chairman Jim Greer, want out.

Mason is asking an Orlando circuit judge to allow him to withdraw from the criminal case scheduled for trial on July 30. Greer is charged with money laundering, grand theft and fraud in connection with money he received from the GOP while he was chairman of the party.

Greer says his other lawyer, Damon Chase of Lake Mary, is prepared to take the case to trial.

We don't know the reasons (lawyers ought not and don't talk about their clients), but there's good circumstantial evidence to suggest that Mason -- who successfully represented "tot mom" Casey Anthony last year -- has had enough of Greer as of late.

Chase and Greer have twice leaked information to a Tampa WTSP investigative reporter who seems more determined to file tendentious reports to show former Gov. Charlie Crist is gay rather than present facts in a basic, objective manner. (Update: WTSP responds below)

For instance, the station last week initially and utterly failed to mention that Crist made a witness-tampering complaint to state police after Chase threatened to depose him about his sexuality because Crist refused to change a sworn affidavit concerning the fraud charges against Greer.

Instead, the station just reported the allegations about Crist's sexuality -- and suggested that it came from a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report. Consider the online headline that read Report: Crist paid men to hide gay affair. You had to read to the fifth paragraph to find out that the allegations came from Greer's camp and Greer's camp alone. Until that point the "allegations" in the "report" were all rendered in the passive voice. 

The facts bear repeating: The defense wanted a witness to change sworn testimony. Crist refused. They then planned to embarrass him in a deposition. Crist complained this was witness tampering. And that witness-tampering complaint from a former governor was utterly lacking from the first "investigative" report. So the investigative reporter had to "update" his report to give the relevant other side. That's not a minor change or update. That's a big deal.

Now investigative reporter Mike Deeson is back with another charge: That Crist gave George LeMieux an interim U.S. Senate seat in 2009 because LeMieux made some veiled threats about making Crist's sexuality public. The headline on this one: "Allegations Charlie Crist appointed George LeMieux to Senate to cover gay rumors." Once again, you have to smash through the print story with a hammer to find out who made the "allegations." It becomes somewhat clear in the ninth -- that's right, the ninth -- paragraph.

Last month, we asked LeMieux (now a Senate candidate) about the "allegations." He denied them. Greer and Chase wouldn't go on record. Greer wasn't in the room when Crist met with LeMieux. So he didn't know what was said.

None of this is to say that the allegations by Greer aren't worth reporting. They are. But they should be reported fairly and accurately.

This latest WTSP report just isn't "investigative." It's more like stenography of public toilet-stall graffiti. Except it's being done with a camera. And when people hear this stuff on television, they have far less of a chance to understand who is making the "allegations." Heck, even if they go back and read the sloppy online copy, they'll have to do it with extreme caution and skepticism. It makes for complicated reading, like translating Aquinas's teleological argument from the original Latin -- sans the sound reasoning.

You can't blame Greer. What defendant wouldn't want a TV station to buy and broadcast whatever you said hook, line and sinker to advance your case?

Perhaps not shockingly, It's impossible to find a WTSP "investigative report" that Greer's criminal defense team is abandoning him.

It appears Greer wants to take the stand. And for seasoned criminal-defense lawyers like Mason, that could be a huge mistake.

Greer suggested he wanted more out of his criminal-defense team (like smearing people?).

"No more delays,continuances,postponements for any reason, while some may have hoped or assumed this case would not go to trial, I want my day in court, Damon Chase knows this case in and out, and he is ready to aggressively represent and defend my case,’’ Greer wrote Wednesday night in an email to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

Chase, in a separate email, said he is looking forward to taking sworn statements from witnesses who have been delaying his effort to put them under oath.

Chase said Greer is eager to tell his story to a jury and prove that those who have testified against him are liars.

“What kind of country do we live in that puts one of its citizens through this kind of torment despite the overwhelming evidence of his innocence? Politicians will clearly stop at nothing to retain their fleeting grasps of power. I feel bad for the prosecutors who will have to argue this case to the jury with a straight face, and I wouldn’t for the world miss being in the courtroom when the clerk reads the verdict, “Not Guilty”. “” Chase responded.
An Orlando judge will consider the lawyers request Thursday.

---Marc Caputo with Lucy Morgan, Tampa Bay Times.

Update from WTSP, which sets up a few straw men to knock them down:

This is the first chance I’ve had to respond to your criticism of my Crist stories two weeks ago, because I’ve been in Boston at the IRE conference.  I think you are off base….if you would have clicked on the links to see the video stories:

You would have seen that I never mention FDLE in either of my reports on TV and attributed the allegations to Damon Chase. In my mind those allegations were the news of the day because as John Morgan said to Chase in one of the discovery e-mails, You are a well respected attorney. These charges were not from a “close your cover before striking”  matchbook advertising attorney ,but someone whom Morgan says is well respected.

Secondly, Crist’s allegations of extortion and witness tampering were old news….We as did you and Lucy Morgan had reported those allegation a week or two before and the FDLE chose to do nothing about it.

Third, we were not forced to make a correction to the story at 11pm… we finally heard from Crist who hadn’t responded to our calls for the earlier story which was breaking around the early  evening  news time.

Fourth We did put in calls and sent texts to Crist before going on air with the story, which I thought was the journalistically responsible thing to do…however I don’t remember getting an e-mail, call or text from you before you published your opinions. I am certainly a big boy and can take criticism , because I do several negative stories…. But I ALWAYS call the subject  of the report before I go to air…is that not in your Blog Bag of tricks?

Fifth, I just won a Green Eyeshade first place this weekend for my coverage of the Greer episode and put more stock in the judges analysis of my work than someone who is competing on the same story.

Finally, like I said, I’m a big boy and not above criticism, but I don’t believe you did your best to get the whole story because it appears you didn’t watch the TV clips and never contacted me to get my take.