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After he was found guilty of bribery, former West Palm Beach, Fla., criminal defense attorney Philip G. Butler decided he had done a bad job of defending himself. So Butler appealed his felony conviction, arguing that he failed to tell himself about the danger of waiving competent counsel. But a three-judge 4th District Court of Appeal panel didn’t buy the technical ploy and affirmed Butler’s conviction. Butler, charged with taking more than $500,000 in bribes from the family of Florida furniture magnate James C. Baber III to keep Baber out of jail on DUI manslaughter charges, opted to represent himself during his Palm Beach Circuit Court trial. A jury in March 1998 convicted Butler of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery — both felonies — plus three misdemeanor charges of accepting illegal campaign contributions in his 1996 bid to unseat chief 15th Circuit State Attorney Barry Krischer. Butler approached Baber’s mother, promising that for a $500,000 payment to fund his ill-fated campaign, Butler would beat Krischer and then prevent Baber from going to jail. Baber went to authorities. Wired, he met with Butler to discuss the bribe. Tape recordings sealed Butler’s fate before the jury. Butler was sentenced to one year in prison plus four years of probation. He remains free on bail. With 25 years of criminal defense experience and hundreds of trials to his credit, Butler complained that he was denied a special hearing to determine if he knowingly waived his right to counsel. Robert N. Scola Jr. was unmoved. “As the old adage accurately states, ‘A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,’ ” the appeals judge wrote in his affirmation of Butler’s conviction on Aug. 16. Although the appellate court noted that no Florida court has ever faced this question, it proved easy to resolve. Scola described Butler as a “highly skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who was well aware of the dangers of self-representation.” “In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly established that Butler ‘chose to represent himself with his eyes open,’ ” Scola wrote. Besides, at the time of Butler’s criminal misdeeds, he was making his second electoral effort to unseat Krischer. The 4th District Court of Appeal judges also criticized Butler for waiting until after his trial before alleging that he did not intelligently waive his right to counsel. “Florida courts have consistently condemned this type of ‘gotcha’ strategy,” wrote Scola. Butler’s conviction led him to submit a disciplinary resignation from the Florida Bar on Jan. 21, 1999, effectively disbarring himself. Butler and his appellate counsel, LueAnne Goodine Butler, who is also his wife, were unavailable for comment at their Tennessee home. If Butler doesn’t petition the 4th District for reconsideration or appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, he must start serving his prison sentence. Meanwhile, the man Butler promised he would keep out of jail has lost an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court of his October 1997 DUI manslaughter conviction. Baber is now serving a 15-year sentence. According to court records, Baber was driving his Lincoln Town Car the wrong way down 45th Street near Military Trail in West Palm Beach on Nov. 11, 1995, when the vehicle crashed into a taxi driven by William Henry Knox. Knox died three weeks later. Baber was seriously hurt. A local hospital took his blood sample, which later revealed he had a blood alcohol level of .23 to .25 — three times Florida’s legal level of presumed intoxication. Arrested on DUI charges five times before the 1995 driving fatality, Baber was convicted twice but never served jail time. Butler initially represented Baber, who also hired West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney David Roth to work on the manslaughter case. Butler withdrew from the case in May 1997 for a conflict of interest after Baber hinted he was going to be the chief witness against Butler in the bribery prosecution. In August 1997, Roth withdrew as Baber’s lawyer when it became apparent that his law partner, Doug Duncan, risked being called as a witness in the case. Duncan had observed Baber on the day of the crash. Stepping in for Roth only five days before the trial began, Richard G. Lubin of West Palm Beach filed a motion to suppress the blood-alcohol evidence, which was denied. Lubin argued that West Palm Beach police conducted the investigation outside of their city limits. Baber hired Bruce S. Rogow and Beverly A. Pohl of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to take his case to the 4th District. The appeal argued that admitting hospital blood-alcohol records deprived Baber of his fundamental right to confront his accusers. The prosecutor had introduced results of the blood test as part of the hospital’s business records and did not call witnesses to show how the blood sample was drawn and kept before being offered into evidence. Florida’s high court unanimously denied the argument.

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