Lawyer cites health problems in plea to avoid halfway house
The National Law Journal
Trial attorney Pierce O'Donnell has asked a federal judge to change his prison sentence so that he can serve three months at his Santa Barbara, Calif., home, rather than at a halfway house.
O'Donnell, who spent the first of four months of his supervised release at the in Hollywood, Calif., halfway house following 60 days in federal prison, was released early to undergo hip replacement surgery on August 14. In a February 5 motion, O'Donnell's attorney, Frederick Friedman, of counsel in the Los Angeles office of Jones Day, wrote that his client's postsurgical condition had deteriorated, rendering him incapable of serving his last three months at the halfway house.
Unlike other residents, who require drug treatment programs and are unemployed, "in Mr. O'Donnell's case, the term of 120 days in the residential facility was a form of punishment exacted by the government because, in its view, the offense merited such punishment and because such punishment was a fair trade for permitting Mr. O'Donnell to plead guilty to a misdemeanor," Friedman wrote. "Mr. O'Donnell agreed to this disposition. But the circumstances have now changed significantly. These materially changed circumstances were wholly unforeseen at the time the plea was entered."
Friedman did not return a call for comment and Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, did not respond to a request for comment. When O'Donnell requested release to undergo surgery, assistant U.S. attorney Dennis Mitchell insisted that his sentence remain unchanged. "It would be a miscarriage of justice if defendant were to succeed in having that portion of his sentence eliminated," he wrote.
U.S. District Judge James Otero has scheduled a status conference for February 11.
O'Donnell, of O'Donnell & Associates in Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to reimbursing employees who in 2003 made $26,000 in donations to the failed presidential campaign of former U.S. Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.). He was released on July 3 from a minimum-security prison in Lompoc, Calif.
His sentence requires that he serve a year under supervised release, including four months at a halfway house. He reported to the Vinewood Residential Re-entry Center on July 16.
In an October 9 motion, Friedman wrote that his client's physical condition following surgery had deteriorated and that O'Donnell required four months of therapy before he could return to the halfway house. Specifically, he wrote, a post-operative hematoma had developed on O'Donnell's right hip, slowing his recovery and increasing his risk of infection. The halfway house was no place for O'Donnell at this time, he wrote.
"The antiquated facility presents numerous problems for someone in his physical condition," Friedman wrote. "There are steps and stairs all around the facility. The residents sleep on very low steel bunk beds with a very thin 'mattress' made out of a half inch or so of some plastic material and a one-inch piece of plywood under the mattress. The only chairs are low, steel folding chairs. There is no medical staff on premises."
Otero granted O'Donnell's motion on October 12.
In his new motion, O'Donnell said the hematoma did not go away until December and that since Christmas he had suffered four falls at a friend's house, getting off an escalator, getting out of a chair and walking down stairs -- due to muscle and nerve damage in his hip. He called the halfway house "an antiquated former motel or hotel in poor, badly maintained condition that presents numerous problems for someone in my physical condition."
His doctor and physical therapist have recommended that he needs another six months of treatment and rehabilitation. O'Donnell asked that he serve the last three months of his sentence in home detention.
"I am well aware that I made a bargain with the Government requiring me to live for four months in a half-way house after my two months at Lompoc," O'Donnell wrote, but "there has been a significant change in my physical health that was unforeseeable at the time of my plea bargain and beyond my control and not of my making. In my case, the government insisted that I go to the half-way house as punishment and not rehabilitation."
He argued that his freedom actually would be more limited at home, where he would be required to wear an electronic monitoring device.
O'Donnell pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors to avoid the going to trial on two felonies under Section 441f of the Federal Election Campaign Act. A conviction on those charges would have led to automatic suspension of his license. He originally pleaded guilty in August 2011, but Otero rejected a plan to require him to serve six months in prison. Otero approved the new deal in March 2012.
O'Donnell also is required to perform 200 hours of community service during his supervised release, followed by another 300 hours of community service in the next 16 months.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at email@example.com.