MIAMI (AP) — A judge refused Tuesday to grant a mistrial in the case of a woman accused of killing a young foster child even though a prosecutor's law license had been suspended for months before the trial began.
Joshua Weintraub, the prosecutor who gave the opening statement in the trial of 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, was notified in August by the Florida Bar that his license to practice law was suspended because he failed to properly record continuing legal education requirements. Nonetheless, Weintraub participated in numerous hearings, depositions, jury selection and the trial's opening this week.
Graham attorney Michael Matters said the issue was much more than an oversight.
"This is absolutely inappropriate, unethical and wrong," Matters said. "There is no justification for someone practicing law without a license."
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez, however, said previous court rulings have made clear that clerical mistakes such as Weintraub's were not the kind of law-license suspension that could prejudice a defendant such as Graham. The judge called it a "ministerial circumstance" and noted that Weintraub had actually earned more than the necessary 30 hours of education credits.
"Once the hours were properly documented to the Bar, he was immediately reinstated and the suspension was lifted," Tinkler-Mendez said.
The office of Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday that the problem was technical in nature and involved a failure to record legal education course numbers with the Bar. Don Horn, a chief assistant in Rundle's office, said the issue was quickly remedied after it surfaced.
"He is, in fact, eligible to practice law in Florida," Horn said.
Prior to the ruling, the trial had proceeded Tuesday with Weintraub sitting at the prosecution table along with his mother, fellow prosecutor Sally Weintraub. They declined comment on the license suspension.
Horn said the issue only came to light after a Miami Herald reader self-identified as "Bambi" posted a comment about Weintraub's law-license status on the newspaper's website. Horn said he immediately took Weintraub off the case until the matter was cleared up Tuesday morning.
Graham faces a potential life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse in the case of foster child Rilya Wilson, who was discovered missing a decade ago and whose body has never been found. Graham insists she is innocent and has claimed that a state Department of Children and Families worker took the child for tests and never returned.
The defense's opening statement focused on the lack of a body and suggested that Rilya, who would be 16 now, might still be alive.
The state's case hinges largely on the testimony of jailhouse snitches who claim that Graham confessed to killing Rilya in conversations with them.
In testimony Tuesday, Graham friend Lilly Mae Tuff said she thought Rilya was an unusually quiet child and that she was frequently in "time out" for what Graham said was bad behavior. She said she also saw Rilya once being punished in a bathtub by having her mouth washed out with Listerine.
"She was upset," Tuff said of Rilya. "I just walked away. I didn't like it