A New York district judge agreed to allow Reginald Fowler’s defense team to withdraw from their client’s case due to nonpayment. He then gave Fowler 45 days to seek a new attorney.
(Update on Feb. 9: The judge has given Fowler three more weeks. Fowler now has until Feb. 25 to retain new counsel, according to the latest court filing.)
Fowler is the former NFL minority owner linked to hundreds of millions of dollars in missing Tether and Bitfinex funds. Tether is the company that has so far issued $20 billion worth of stablecoins, and Bitfinex is a crypto exchange. Both companies are operated by the same individuals.
In a telephone status conference today, Judge Andrew L. Carter agreed to allow Fowler’s defense counsel—Hogan Lovells and Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry—to step down. They claim their client owes them more than $600,000.
However, while the government agreed to letting the lawyers withdraw, it was opposed to an adjournment of the April 28 trial, arguing that the situation was of Fowler’s own making. After all, his lawyers had been warning him since February they were planning to quit. The trial has already been postponed twice.
“We believe the almost four months until trial is sufficient time for a new counsel to prepare for trial,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Jessica Greenwood told the judge.
Judge Carter disagreed. That assumes Fowler’s new attorneys have already been retained and are on the case today, he said, stressing that it may take time for Fowler to find a new lawyer—especially given that his current lawyers are seeking to withdraw because he hasn’t paid them.
“That usually doesn’t make the defendant a very attractive client to a subsequent law firm,” Carter said.
The judge then explained to Fowler—who was on the call, joined by his defense team—that if he was unable to afford a new attorney, the court would provide him one free of charge. However, he would need to fill out a financial affidavit for the court to make that determination.
Although Fowler would not admit to whether he could afford an attorney, he did say he wished to try and hire one who would be more willing to work with him given his “current condition.”
“The government has seized all my assets,” he said, starting to sound a bit angry. “The government has asked me to put the properties that I have that are free and clear up for bail. The government has handcuffed me. They have shut me down. They have locked down my family,” he said—though it’s not clear what he meant in saying his family was “locked down.”
“I can’t even get a bank account. My business has been shut down since COVID, so we don’t have any income. We do have assets. We can’t get to the assets because the government has tied them all up, so what I want to do, respectfully, is to try to find a firm that will work with me, understanding that we have assets that are tied up by the government, i.e., the properties that have me set for bail, or whatever you call it.”
Fowler, now living in Chandler, Arizona, is free on $5 million bail. Five properties were put up for lien in order to secure his bond.
He called it “ludicrous” that the government forced him to put up “nearly $2 million worth of nearly free-and-clear properties” for bond. (A quick look on Zillow puts the properties’ value at around $1.4 million.)
Fowler said if he could not find an attorney to work with him, he would ask the court for assistance.
The judge stressed that Fowler has a right to be represented by an attorney, and gave him until Feb. 2, 2021, to find one on his own. A new trial date will be set after that time, the judge said.
Hogan Lovells also represents Fowler in a class-action complaint against Tether and Bitfinex, in which Fowler is named. They are seeking to withdraw from that case as well.
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