A former Utah attorney general says the Utah Court of Appeals treated him unfairly last week when it ruled he mishandled the defense of a man accused of theft.
Phil L. Hansen said Tuesday that he never got the chance to present his side of the case to the three-judge panel that overturned the conviction of James V. Crestani. The judges said Crestani did not receive a fair trial because Hansen was unprepared to provide an effective defense."This has caused me a hell of a lot of bad publicity. I can't understand why the Court of Appeals just relied on affidavits to make their decision," Hansen said, noting he has mixed feelings.
"I wish the Crestanis well in their new trial. I believe in their innocence."
State Bar officials said Tuesday they also had considered Hansen's handling of the case in a disciplinary hearing and had exonerated him. The hearing was held under the direction of the Utah Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had temporarily suspended Hansen's bar membership and prohibited him from accepting new cases. The court lifted that suspension after the bar ruled in Hansen's favor.
But Crestani, who was serving a prison sentence for the alleged thefts, started a separate appeal that ended with the Court of Appeals, which is the final word on criminal cases not considered by the state Supreme Court.
The decision, released publicly Monday, overturned a lower court ruling that Hansen had conducted the case properly.
"I was shocked at the results because of all the other tribunals saying that I was adequate," Hansen said. "I think it's unfair."
Hansen defended his handling of the case but said he did not want to discuss details.
"I don't want to try the case in the papers," he said. "Once I have a hearing, it will show my side."
However, he does not know how or when he will get such a hearing.
He also believes it is unfair that the court named him in the decision. The court overturned a conviction in a separate case last week for the same reason but declined to mention the attorney's name.
Hansen is now defending a youth accused of beating to death the son of movie actress Beverly Todd in a West Valley dance club. He served as attorney general from 1965 to 1969 and was the last Democrat to hold that office until Paul Van Dam, the current attorney general, was elected in 1988.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that Hansen failed to properly prepare to defend Crestani and failed to tell Crestani's wife he was planning to call her to testify.
Crestani was accused in 1985 of stealing $57,300 from an account that should have been used exclusively for funds held in escrow for real estate closings. The court decision said Crestani told Hansen the money he withdrew was money he had previously deposited into the account out of his personal funds.
The court said Hansen subpoenaed records from the bank but failed to pay the bank's copying charges. As a result, Hansen did not obtain the records until July 5, 1987, two days before the trial. He had asked only for deposit records - not for monthly statements, checks, disbursements or credit and debit memos - and failed to get any records from the months during which one of the four thefts allegedly occurred, according to the court's decision.
The court said the state prosecutor offered to allow Hansen to examine the state's evidence prior to the trial, but Hansen failed to do so. During the trial, Hansen objected to evidence the state presented, claiming he had not been given an opportunity to examine it.