James 'Whitey' Bulger Trial: Judges Assign Taxpayer-Funded Defense, Drop Racketeering Charges

Judge: Alleged mob boss found with $822,000 qualifies for taxpayer-paid lawyers.

June 30, 2011 — -- Notorious fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, captured last week as authorities seized $822,000 cash hidden in the walls of his rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., has been assigned taxpayer-financed lawyers to defend himself against 19 murder charges.

After Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler in Boston ruled that the alleged former South Boston mob boss is entitled to taxpayer-funded counsel, attorneys J.W. Carney and his law partner, Janice Bassil, were appointed to represent Bulger, 81, who eluded capture as a fugitive for 16 years.

"I find at this time that the defendant is unable to retain counsel," Bowler said, adding there will be a review down the road to determine if Bulger should repay those attorney fees.

Bowler's ruling came after U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Wolf ruled that the 1994 indictment on racketeering charges against the alleged former South Boston mob boss can be dismissed as the government requested, allowing federal law enforcement to focus its case against Bulger on 19 murder charges.

"It is in the public interest that this case be dismissed," Wolf said.

The issue of just who was going to represent Bulger and how the lawyers were going to be paid sparked outrage among Bulger's victims. Bulger himself taunted Judge Bowler last week when he said he could fund his own defense if the feds just gave back his $822,000.

However, legal observers, including Boston defense attorney Anthony Cardinale, said Bowler's ruling made sense.

"He has said he doesn't have enough money to pay for a lawyer," Cardinale told ABCNews.com. "It's as simple as that. And this is the kind of case that requires a lawyer with very specific qualifications and abilities and manpower. ... The guy deserves the best defense that can be given to him, even though he is a monster. Now, if his financial statement later turns out to be false and he does have money hidden around, well, then he could be charged with perjury. But that's the least of his problems."

Cardinale also has a legal interest in the money found in Bulger's apartment. He has won a lien against the funds on behalf of a client, Julie Dammers.

Dammers and her ex-husband, Stephen Rakes, won a multimillion-dollar judgment against Bulger because the couple said they were forced at gunpoint to sell their South Boston liquor store to Bulger and his associates.

Government officials have seized the stashed cash and will claim "forfeiture rights." Cardinale said he intends to fight that claim.

Lawyers Carney and Bassil are perhaps best known for representing John Salvi, who killed several people when he shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston in 1994.

Bulger arrived at the courthouse today wearing his now-familiar orange jumpsuit. He was flown from jail to Logan Airport in a government helicopter and then a U.S. Marshal's motorcade drove him to the federal courthouse on Boston's waterfront.

Whitey Bulger's two brothers were in court for the Wolf hearing, the first of the Bulger hearings today. William Bulger, the former Massachusetts Senate president, and John Bulger, who was convicted of perjury for failing to disclose communications he had with his brother before he disappeared, entered the courtroom before the rest of the crowd, raising the ire of some of Bulger's alleged victims.

Steven Davis, whose sister, Debra, allegedly was killed by Bulger, glared at the Bulger brothers and asked, "Why do they get to go in first?"

Wolf handed the government its early victory by dismissing the racketeering charges against Bulger shortly after Bulger arrived at the courthouse and after hearing brief arguments.

Peter Krupp, Bulger's interim attorney, accused the government of forum shopping -- of trying to find a judge more amenable to their case.

In a twist of fate, Wolf was the original judge on Bulger's 1994 racketeering indictment and has been harshly critical of prosecutors in the past. But today, Wolf ruled in their favor and told the court "my role in this case is essentially over."

Cardinale called that the "right ruling" and said it seems more likely Krupp and his client were simply trying to delay the proceedings.

"Any defendant in his right mind, when the government says to you, 'We're going to dismiss some charges against you,' well, they say OK," Cardinale said. "But this defendant says, 'No, please continue to prosecute me.' I mean, you've got to be kidding me. That says, to me, there is an effort to delay justice."

The next step for the most notorious alleged mob figure in Massachusetts history will be a July 6 court hearing with the two new court-appointed attorneys in tow.