BY BARRETT J. BRUNSMAN
From the Cincinnati Enquirer
BATAVIA, Ohio—A lawyer who works for the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund can’t represent Rep. Jean Schmidt in a defamation lawsuit filed on her behalf against former political opponent David Krikorian, and a different lawyer for the congresswoman must disclose records that could show who is paying her legal bills, a judge has ruled.
Bruce Fein, who works for the Turkish-American group and represented Schmidt in previous election-related disputes between the Miami Township Republican and Krikorian, could be called as a witness in the defamation case in Clermont County Common Pleas Court, visiting Judge John W. Kessler said in a Monday decision.
It could be a potential conflict of interest for Fein to be Schmidt’s attorney in the defamation case, the judge said.
Schmidt doesn’t have to turn over to Krikorian copies of fee agreements or billing invoices related to her lawyers, the judge said.
But the judge’s decision means Schmidt attorney Donald Brey, who works for a Columbus firm, must share records such as copies of checks or credit card statements that could indicate if someone made payments for her, Krikorian attorney Brian Hester said Tuesday.
Krikorian’s attorneys had asked the judge to order Schmidt to reveal whether her attorneys are being paid by the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund, which is affiliated with the Turkish Coalition of America.
The records could prove Krikorian didn’t lie in calling her a “puppet” of Turkish interest groups, Hester said, Schmidt had no comment on the judge’s decision, a spokesman said Tuesday. Fein also declined to comment.
“I’m pleased with the judge’s decision,” said Krikorian, a Madeira businessman who ran against Schmidt as an independent in 2008 and lost a Democratic primary in 2010 in an effort to challenge her again.
Schmidt claims that Krikorian, an Armenian-American, falsely accused her of taking money from Turkish interest groups to deny the genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by Muslim Turks during World War I.
The suit filed against him in June seeks $6.8 million in compensatory and punitive damages for what Schmidt claims were false allegations by Krikorian that she was complicit in campaign finance crimes, bribery and perjury.
Krikorian’s attorneys argued that either Fein or Schmidt lied regarding who is paying her legal bills.
“There apparently is an independent investigation being conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics regarding approximately 200 hours of legal services received by plaintiff Schmidt,” the judge wrote.
“In an earlier deposition, attorney Bruce Fein said that the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund was paying for Schmidt’s legal fees, and plaintiff Schmidt denied that,” the judge wrote. “The issue of who is paying for these fees is material in regard (to the defamation suit.)”