Feds object to legal maneuver that would likely delay Lindberg’s bribery retrial

US Attorney Dena King of North Carolina's Western District (Image from justice.gov)

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  • US Attorney Dena King's office objects to two defense lawyers withdrawing from a bribery and fraud case involving former top North Carolina political donor Greg Lindberg.
  • The case is scheduled for a retrial in November. King's office predicts a delay if two attorneys are allowed to step away from representing Lindberg's co-defendant, John Gray.
  • A federal jury convicted Lindberg in 2020 of bribing state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that conviction in 2022.

US Attorney Dena King’s office is objecting to defense lawyers’ request to step away from the bribery retrial of Greg Lindberg and co-defendant John Gray. King’s office argues that the request could delay the retrial now scheduled for November.

Lindberg was once North Carolina’s top campaign donor. A federal jury convicted him in 2020 of attempting to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey after Causey’s 2016 election. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out Lindberg’s seven-year prison sentence in 2022. Appellate judges ruled that mistakes in the judge’s jury instructions “infected” Lindberg’s convictions.

A retrial had been scheduled for March. But US District Judge Max Cogburn agreed in March to delay the case to Nov. 6 because of issues surrounding Gray’s legal representation. The judge agreed in the spring that Gray’s new defense team needed time to review millions of pages of documents in the case.

Lawyers Brian Cromwell and Sarah Hutchins filed a motion on Aug. 17 asking to withdraw as Gray’s lawyers in the case. They wrote that Eli Global, the company funding Gray’s defense, “has failed substantially to fulfill an obligation to Counsel regarding Counsel’s services. In addition, the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on Counsel.”

King’s office, representing the federal government, objects to Cromwell and Hutchins leaving the case.

“Approximately two and a half months before the peremptorily set retrial in a multi-defendant case that was originally tried three and a half years ago, counsel for Defendant Gray has moved to withdraw because of a third-party’s failure to satisfy their purported obligations to cover Defendant Gray’s legal fees,” according to a court filing Thursday. “Further, it is anticipated that, if the motion is granted, Defendant Gray will move this Court for a continuance of the date set for trial, and that Defendant Lindberg would join or not oppose that request.”

“While denial of the motion to withdraw may result in a foreseeable financial burden on counsel, that alone is insufficient to override the other interests at play — namely, proceeding with the long-scheduled retrial of this case in a timely fashion,” King’s office argued. “Because no other good cause for withdrawal exists, the Court should exercise its broad discretion and deny counsel’s motion to withdraw.”

King’s document referenced the case’s complexity and timeline.

“While two and half months before trial, in many cases, may not be considered disruptive, the same cannot be said here where the case was originally tried three and a half years ago, was remanded over a year ago, has been peremptorily set for retrial alongside a co-defendant over five months ago, and involves voluminous discovery,” the federal government lawyers wrote. “Because withdrawal and the appointment or retention of new counsel would likely result in an adjournment of the current trial date and a lengthy continuance, the instant motion to withdraw should be denied.”

The November retrial on fraud and bribery charges represents one of multiple legal actions in state and federal court involving Lindberg.

Cogburn agreed in June to delay a federal trial on a separate 13-count indictment until 2024. In that case, charges include wire fraud, money-laundering conspiracy, and false entries about insurance business finances.

At the state court level, Lindberg is asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to overturn a ruling against him in the case Southland National Insurance Company v. Lindberg. A court filing in that case from the Universal Life Insurance Company, ULICO, suggests Lindberg owes his top creditors at least $1.9 billion.

Cogburn issued an Aug. 18 order agreeing to delay a hearing related to Gray’s case. He took no action on Cromwell and Hutchins’ request to withdraw as Gray’s lawyers.