The former Allegheny County councilman and candidate for county executive accused of stealing nearly $200,000 from an elderly widow accused his defense attorney today of being "unprepared," and "lacking the intellectual capacity," to take his case to trial.
Charles P. McCullough, 56, of Upper St. Clair, asked Allegheny County Judge Donald E. Machen for another postponement of his trial so that he could hire a new attorney.
The judge agreed, and Mr. McCullough said he is close to hiring Jon Pushinsky to represent him. Mr. McCullough told the court if Mr. Pushinsky comes on board, he believes they'd be ready to go to trial by February.
The case had already been scheduled for eight different dates.
On Friday, Patrick Thomassey, who became Mr. McCullough's defense attorney in November 2009, filed a motion with Judge Machen asking to withdraw as counsel, citing "irreconcilable differences."
At a hearing today, Mr. Thomassey said that Mr. McCullough had been trying to dictate how the case would be tried.
"What he wants me to do with this case, how he wants me to try this case . . . I won't do it," Mr. Thomassey said.
He told Judge Machen that Mr. McCullough wanted him to attack the district attorney's office.
"This is not a political vendetta. It's not a political case," Mr. Thomassey said later. "It's about whether he committed a crime and what he did with Mrs. [Shirley] Jordan's money."
But Mr. McCullough, who is also an attorney, presented a different picture to Judge Machen.
He accused Mr. Thomassey of not returning his phone calls, making Mr. McCullough complete much of the prep work for the trial and being unprepared for trial.
Mr. McCullough told Judge Machen that Mr. Thomassey said to him in July, " 'I don't know where to begin with the case. I do shoot-em-ups and murders.' "
In addition, the defendant said Mr. Thomassey told him, " 'I think I got it, but I can't retain it, and I don't understand it.' "
Mr. McCullough, who spoke for several minutes before the judge, said he considered Mr. Thomassey his friend and that he regularly prays for him and sends him Mass cards.
"Lately that prayer has been for Mr. Thomassey to step up or step out of the way."
Mr. McCullough also told the court he was "concerned" about Mr. Thomassey's behavior.
When Mr. Thomassey asked Judge Machen for a chance to respond to the allegations, the judge refused.
"I'm not here for he said/she said," the judge answered. "That's not important to me. I want to move this case forward."
Later, Mr. Thomassey called Mr. McCullough's accusations "nonsense," and "hurtful."
"In 37 years, I've never been unprepared to try a case," he said. "It's insulting to me for him to say I wasn't prepared."
Then he continued, "I'm not 'intellectually capable of trying a case'? That's absurd."
The defendant, who is charged along with his sister, Kathleen McCullough, told Judge Machen that his law practice is almost non-existent now.
"The life I used to lead is over," he said, his voice cracking.
Later, he recounted a story of his 40th birthday and the relationship he had with his father, who died just a few days later.
Mr. McCullough told Judge Machen he did not want a mistrial declared, and later said if he could not find a new attorney to represent him that he would try "the doggone thing" himself.
Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, who did not file a formal objection to the request, told Judge Machen, "Justice delayed is justice denied."
With eight court dates already set, each rescheduling requires Mr. Claus to contact about three dozen witnesses to ensure they will be available for trial, he said.
Since the investigation began, he said, Mrs. Jordan, along with a guardian ad litem for her who would have served as a witness, have died.
"Each day that goes by, I have the risk of my case being diminished," Mr. Claus said.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.