Medford gets new attorney; question on pay delayed

Former Buncombe County Sheriff Bobby Medford, his head shaved bald, was back in court today, getting a new attorney to appeal his conviction on federal corruption charges, while the judge delayed ruling on what fees Medford will have to pay for that representation.

Judge Magistrate Dennis Howell approved Medford’s new attorney, Asheville-based David Belser, for his appeal.

Medford has not yet been assigned a federal prison to serve out his 15-year sentence, and, outgoing defense attorney Stephen Lindsay said, the former sheriff “has been bounced around from county jail to county jail. Often he’s not received his medications regularly and the [implanted device] that helps manage his pain needs to be tuned. He’s not seen a physician about that in five weeks.”

Medford is currently in a Georgia jail while he awaits his assignment.

Howell replied that such matters were out of his jurisdiction and that Lindsay needed to contact the U.S. Marshal’s service or Judge Thomas Ellis, who presided over Medford’s trial and who said during sentencing that Medford should be quickly put into a federal prison that could deal with his medical problems.

Lindsay also asked that Howell rescind a court order requiring Medford to pay $750 a month to offset his attorney costs, as he is now required to pay back a government forfeiture of $287,776 and back taxes of $15,000.

“He’ll lose his Social Security benefits, he’ll possibly lose his retirement — it might even constitute a further punishment on him when punishment’s already been imposed,” he said. “The government’s just saying pay me more, pay me more.”

However, government prosecutor Richard Edwards said that Medford still receives his retirement and pension — around $4,000 a month — from the state, and that his living expenses have drastically decreased.

“Look at the expenses reported [when Howell originally set the fee at $750] — rent, heat, food electricity, car payment — he won’t need to pay those because the Bureau of Prisons will be providing that for the next 15 years,” Edwards said. “In fact, the court should seriously consider raising that amount. Right now the taxpayers have shouldered about $150,000 in legal fees for Mr. Medford’s representation.”

Edwards called Robert Thornberry, Buncombe County’s human resources director, to the stand to testify to the amount of Medford’s retirement. Thornberry said that while a state law did prohibit convicted felons who were state officials from receiving retirement benefits, it went into effect in 2007. Medford’s crimes — taking bribes to protect illegal video-poker operations, among others — took place through late 2006.

However, Howell noted that several documents, such as a formal statement from the IRS confirming the amount of back taxes Medford had to pay, were not present, and that he wanted one of the state’s retirement counselors to testify whether or not Medford’s benefits would disappear. He set another hearing for Thursday, Dec. 18.

— David Forbes, staff writer


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