A Baton Rouge judge's contempt-of-court finding against the attorneys for a man accused in last year's hit-and-run death of a Zachary firefighter and reserve police officer has been reversed by an appeals court.
State District Judge Beau Higginbotham fined prominent New Orleans lawyer Martin Regan $100 and his co-counsel Harry Ward $50 in April for their handling of Albert Jermaine Franklin Jr.'s manslaughter case in the killing of Christopher Lawton.
The attorneys for a man accused in last year’s hit-and-run death of Zachary firefighter and reserve police officer Christopher Lawton received…
Higginbotham held Regan in contempt and fined him after he failed to appear the morning of April 10 for a hearing in Franklin's case. Regan showed up that afternoon in the judge's courtroom and explained he'd been in court in Jefferson Parish earlier that day on another felony case.
The judge likewise found Ward in contempt and fined him for what he described as Ward's unprepared and ineffective representation of Franklin during a hearing that morning on a motion to suppress Franklin's statements to authorities.
Higginbotham ultimately denied the motion after Franklin, 34, of Zachary, took the stand and, on the advice of Ward, asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal on Monday reversed Higginbotham's decision to hold both lawyers in contempt, saying "the record does not support a finding of contempt of court."
The appellate court, however, rejected an appeal of the judge's denial of Franklin's suppression motion.
"An evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress shall be held only when the defendant alleges facts that would require the granting of relief," the court stated. "Vague and general legal conclusions, urged in form motions, are inadequate to require the holding of such a hearing."
Circuit Judge John Michael Guidry dissented on that issue, saying Higginbotham "impermissibly shifted the burden of proof by requiring the defendant to present evidence."
"It is well-settled that at a hearing on a defendant's motion to suppress a confession or inculpatory statement, the State bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the free and voluntary nature of the confession or statement and, therefore, it is obliged to call its witnesses first and go forward with its proof to meet its burden," Guidry wrote.
Regan said Wednesday he'll appeal the suppression issue to the Louisiana Supreme Court. He added that the appeals court's reversal of the contempt citations was proper.
"We weren't contemptuous," Regan said.
Regan said his firm will be refunded the $150 in fines.
Franklin is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 16.
Franklin, a convicted felon, was free on drug and gun counts after posting bail in a November 2017 arrest in East Baton Rouge Parish when Lawton, 41, and another officer tried to arrest him March 12, 2018, for a gun-related offense that occurred earlier that month.
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During the arrest attempt, Lawton was struck and killed by a U-Haul truck driven by Franklin in the parking lot of the Walmart on Plank Road in Baker.
Regan has said Franklin twice asked for a lawyer when detectives were questioning him, but prosecutor Dana Cummings argued in April that Franklin also knocked on the door of the interrogation room while sitting in the room and spoke with detectives after they returned to the room.