Hatch trial creeps along as jurors get an education on rules of evidence

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — During Thursday’s laborious testimony in the theft trial of Ira Hatch, jurors and spectators got a lesson from a legal pro on how to nit-pick.Defense attorney Gregory Eisenmenger continued to find ways, by parsing words and challenging courtroom procedure, to delay the proceedings and deflect the jurors’ attention away from the allegations of millions of dollars lost while in his client’s care.”You’re all going to be trial attorneys by the time we finish this,” Senior Judge James Midelis told jurors after a particularly tedious session of discussing, debating and instructing witnesses on various rules of evidence.Roughly 40 people have told their stories from the witness stand so far since the trial began last week, and more of the same is on tap for Friday as Realtors and former clients of Hatch’s now-defunct firm, Coastal Escrow Services, are scheduled to testify.The bulk of the day Thursday was taken up by the review of Coastal Escrow Services client files seized by City of Vero Beach Police Department investigators in Sept. 2007 after Hatch closed the doors of the company and notified clients that he could not refund their money.Former Coastal Escrow bookkeeper Brenda Klotzer returned after a two-day break from her testimony, as the review of the files began on Tuesday. Appearing completely exhausted after a solid morning and part of the afternoon on the stand, Klotzer uttered “finally” as she exited and walked down the hallway away from Senior Judge James Midelis’ courtroom.The next to testify was Realtor and property manager Carol Eisenmann, who answered questions about money belonging to about a half-dozen of her rental clients being deposited with Coastal Escrow and never returned to her or to the client. All told, Eisenmenger’s renters lost $16,875.One renter, Kelly Curtis Spence, who had given her Realtor $2,200 in deposits to be placed in escrow with Hatch’s firm also testified that she never got her money back after the company closed.Eisenmenger attempted to corner Spence because she had not written the full, legal name of the owner of the property, Taurian Florida Properties LLC, on her rent checks and that she’d written her deposit checks directly to the Realtor. He grilled her about what the real name of the company was to which she paid her rent, giving various versions of the name and quizzing Spence about which name was correct.””I don’t know, I guess it’s whatever is on my lease,” she responded.Even the most simple questions posed to witnesses were challenged by Eisenmenger, who often did not like the wording of the question, the leading nature of the question or, for example of the word “you” when he wanted prosecutor Lev Evans to use the words “you yourself” to be more precise about who collected deposit checks and delivered them to Coastal Escrow.More than 100 witnesses are on the list to be called to add to the dozens of stories already told to jurors about funds for down payments and rental deposits entrusted with Coastal Escrow and lost.Though some of the initial charges have been dropped or segmented for a later trial, the disbarred former attorney faces 46 felony counts of which he is accused. The prosecution alleges that, between 2003 and 2007, Hatch either mishandled or stole more than $4 million, which he supposedly used to fund business expenses and a lavish lifestyle for himself, his now ex-wife Marjorie, daughter Danielle and son Rory.Hatch has been incarcerated at the Indian River County Jail since Jan. 11, 2008 when he was arrested on charges of grand theft, racketeering and money laundering. He was unable to post the required $3 million bond and subsequently was declared indigent by the court.The seasoned defense attorney Eisenmenger, an in-law of Hatch’s who is working pro bono, maintains Hatch’s innocence, asserting that any funds paid to Hatch or to his former law firm of Hatch & Doty represented legitimate fees for services earned by Hatch. Eisenmenger has also told the jury that the demise of Coastal Escrow Services was due to a business failure and that the state has no evidence that a theft occurred.The trial is scheduled to last three months, but Judge Midelis said this week he is skeptical that the attorneys will be able to meet that timeframe with all the delays and false starts experienced so far.

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