Days are long, stakes are high for attorneys on Ira Hatch case

VERO BEACH — As another week of the epic saga of Ira Hatch concludes, the often mind-numbing and frustrating hours of court time are only a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes in the multi-million dollar fraud trial.Friday, for example, Senior Judge James Midelis excused jurors around 3 p.m. after the last witness finished up. At nearly 5 p.m. prosecutors were not even close to packing their bags for home.The sign-in sheet at the office of the State Attorney on the 3rd floor of the Indian River County Courthouse listed the names of several witnesses who had come in to meet with prosecutors to prepare for next week’s round of testimony. After hours, the meetings continue to accommodate those who can’t come by until after work.Both teams of attorneys have been working marathon days just to keep up with the massive quantity of documents, facts, figures and names in this trial with a  witness and victim list of about 800 people. Defense Attorney Gregory Eisenmenger, who commutes 60 miles each way for court from either his office in Viera or his home in Merritt Island every weekday can often be seen and heard on breaks checking in with his office, making and rescheduling appointments and arranging to meet witnesses around the trial schedule. One day the court recessed early so a key witness from out of town could be deposed by attorneys from both sides in a conference room at the courthouse.To ready the state’s case for trial, Assistant District Attorneys Lev Evans and Ryan Butler have been working virtually seven days a week, 11 or 12 hours per day since about March. As heated dust-ups and raised voices this week revealed, tensions are running high on both sides as these adversaries have been circling each other for more than two years. There’s an awful lot at stake, not only for the 62-year-old Hatch, but for State Attorney Bruce Colton. This is not a case the state wants to lose. As evidence that the public’s perception of prosecutors’ performance is a top priority, Chief Assistant State Attorney Ton Bakkedahl gently chastised members of the press in the hallway earlier this week for comments printed in stories and editorials second-guessing the state’s handling of the case so far. In fact, the state is, to use a poker term, “all in” on this one, as it seems they’ve put their very best team on the job.Evans, who serves in Colton’s Major Crimes Division and tries white-collar crimes exclusively throughout the 19th Judicial Circuit, said he couldn’t comment as to the details of the Hatch case due to Florida Bar regulations, but that he could speak in generalities about the defense team and about trial preparation.”For every hour of testimony, we spend several more hours in preparation outside the courtroom,” Evans said.The team of Evans and Butler was assembled even before Hatch was arrested in January 2008. Butler was working hand-in-hand with detectives from the Vero Beach Police Department in an advisory capacity to make sure every detail was handled according to the letter of the law. Butler accompanied police when they served search warrants and generally served as a resource when sticky questions would arise about evidence or about witnesses.”Ryan is the brain trust,” Evans said. “He is the legal adviser to our whole office.”Evans, on the other hand, is more of what you’d expect a trial lawyer to be — confident, quick on his feet and unflappable with a demeanor that helps get the jurors on his side. Evans handles most of the direct questioning and any rebuttal, often having to accomplish verbal or grammatical gymnastics to satisfy Eisenmenger’s penchant for absolute precision in the laying of predicate for probing into the chain of events with witnesses.Butler is called in to take the lead when intricate details are part of the testimony or when data needs to be presented in a formal way. When obscure points of case law are called into question, it’s Butler who grabs the law books and looks up the precedents and rules. He seems to also be in charge of technology and making sure the computer, projector and Powerpoint program work on cue.With all the time they spend on the Hatch trial, the observer might thing that the state has cleared the decks for Butler and Evans to work only on proving the 46 counts against the former attorney and owner of the now-defunct Coastal Escrow Services. Not true, says Evans.”We both have other cases, just smaller caseloads than the other attorneys,” he said. How does that work with the Hatch trial scheduled to last about three months — or longer, according to comments made by Judge Midelis this week regarding the snail’s pace of the progress.”We beg the other judges for a continuance in our other cases while this trial is going on,” Evans said.The trial continues at 9 a.m. Monday with more witnesses, mostly Realtors and alleged victims, but chances are very good that the attorneys on both sides will not take the weekend off.

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