By Stan Billingsley Nov. 24, 2012

On Nov. 15th. my wife Gwen and I attended the sentencing of Gallatin County Personal Injury lawyer Meredith (Larry) Lawrence in Federal Court in Covington, Kentucky. I never practiced federal criminal law amd I wanted to learn about the sentencing process in Federal court, and I wanted to offer moral support to a lawyer I respect.

Larry was a distant acquaintance for a number of years, but about six years ago I sat as a Circuit Judge in a personal injury case in which Larry represented the surviving husband and two children of a woman who had been killed by a roll of stainless steel falling off a truck and crashing through the windshield of her vehicle.

Larry did an excellent job, and the jury awarded his client some $5,000,000. I allowed an instruction on a doctrine called by the appellate court as “pre-impact fright”. (The court threw out my instruction allowing damages for the one second that the decedent witnesth the 40,000 lb. roll of steel flying at her. An EMT worker lived in the house next to the incident. She ran out to attend the decedent, and testified that the woman was instantly killed, but her face still exhibited a frozen scream of horror. I left it to the jury to allow or deny damages for the 1 sec. the decedent had before her death. The jury awarded $100,000 under the “pre-impact fright” instruction. The appellate court set aside that instruction , but suggested that this doctrine might be approved in some future case, but was not allowed in this case. This trial in the Gallatin Circuit Court, demonstrated to me Larry’s competence as a trial lawyer. The rest of the $5 million dollar verdict was upheld.

This year “Larry” was convicted after a jury trial for “skimming” income from a restaurant and strip club known as “Racers” on Hwy. 127 near the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County in Northern Kentucky just off of Interstate 71.

Larry has been very forthcoming about his conviction for filing an incorrect tax return with the IRS, and he still maintains his innocence. An attorney close to the trial explained that under the law, criminal intent is not necessary for the federal conviction, and it doesn’t matter if your IRS tax return reports too much income or too little. If you reported income is incorrect, you can be convicted. The court imposed a restitution order of some $128,000. The testimony alleged that Larry had placed funds in different accounts and still had the money.

The fact that he maintained his innocence was a factor announced at the sentencing hearing of the l5th. Federal District Judge Danny Reeves explained that the sentencing guidelines, he was required to apply to the Lawrence sentence, worked to enhance the prison sentence.

There were three or four accountants who allegedly all came up with different amounts of income that should have been reported. Reportedly Larry had offered from day one to promptly pay the IRS whatever they claimed, and he told me that he never knew until the criminal trial just how much the IRS claimed was owed to them.

As I understand the case, he didn’t learn how much the IRS claimed he owed, until the trial. I don’t question the jury verdict, as I didn’t attend the trial and don’t claim to know all the facts. But I wanted to learn more about federal court sentencing procedures.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines actually punish a defendant for simply asking for a jury trial. That just seems un-american to me. If the constitution guarantees every defendant a jury trial, how can Congress and the Courts punish you for merely asserting your constitutional right to a trial?

Further the guidelines enhanced the punishment of Lawrence for “perjury”. This was not a conviction on a perjury count, this was a provision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which holds that if you are convicted, and your testimony differs from the testimony of a Government witness, then you are deemed to have committed perjury not by a jury, but by the Sentencing Guidelines.
One of the reasons I wanted to attend Larry’s sentencing, besides showing my support for a friend who clearly appreciated the support of the 60 or 70 family members and friends who drove to Covington, and sat for the three hour sentencing process, was to see District Judge Danny Reeves in action.

I have read many pleadings in which Judge Reeves was involved. Reeves was the trial judge in the second Fen Phen jury trial in which William Gallion and Shirley Cunningham were convicted. That second trial allowed the Bar Counsel of the KBA to testify before the jury that the KBA had disbarred the two defendants. The Bar Counsel Linda Gosnell, was subsequently discharged by the Board of Governors of the KBA in November of 2011. To this day the KBA refuses to say why they fired Gosnell. In a related case Judge Reeves has ordered attorney Angela Ford to disclose the names of the attorneys she shared her legal fee with. Ford has twice appealed Judge Reeves order which was sought by the U.S. Attorney. After seeing Judge Reeves in person, I concluded that I would not like to be in Angela Ford’s shoes. I would think it would be unwise to oppose any order issued by Judge Reeves, and I would not like to be a target of the U.S. Attorneys list.

Gallion and Cunningham recently filed pleadings seeking consideration of their convictions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In any event, I found that Reeves was better looking than his official picture. He appeared younger than I had imagined, and conducted himself with professionalism during the three hour sentencing process.
Judge Reeves patiently allowed the defense to make arguments about the sentencing recommendations of the Government attorneys. During the hearing, Larry made a comment about the effect his absence would have on his two daughters, and stated that his ex-wife who had “run off with a truck driver to Canada” thus abandoning her husband and her two daughters. He discussed the psychological effects on his children, and commented that the children needed him to be present as a parent. He opined that his ex-wife just was incapable of properly caring for the parties two children.

Someone sitting two rows behind me interrupted the hearing with a shout in which she stated, “that’s a bunch of crap”. It was reported to me that the outburst was made by Larry’s ex-wife. The solemnity and seriousness of this procedure was disrupted. I believe everyone in the courtroom expected the bailiffs to open fire at any moment. More than a few of us flinched and prepared to hit the floor for our own protection. I told my wife that to me the outburst proved Lawrence’s allegation that the children’s mother was not capable of parenting the children.

Judge Reeves didn’t bat an eyelash at the outburst. He showed a great deal of restraint in ignoring the inappropriate disruption. I must admit that had that occurred in my courtroom I probably would have taken punitive action…but Judge Reeves showed restraint. His restraint earned my respect.

Judge Reeves heard the arguments on four issues that could have enhanced or reduced the sentence recommendation of 27 to 33 months. He granted the defendant’s motion that the “sophistication” of the “skimming” scheme was not great. He then complied with the sentencing guidelines and used his discretion to sentence Lawrence to the minimum of 27 months. He denied probation, but did recommend referral to a Federal Prison Camp near Manchester, Kentucky. He gave Lawrence to March to report to the Bureau of Prisons, to clear up his personal affairs.
My wife was reading a new novel by John Grisham titled “The Racketeer”, and it discusses the conviction of a lawyer who was placed in a fictional Federal Prison Camp in Cumberland, Maryland. The attorney in the novel discusses life in a Federal Prison Camp. It is not a place that I would like to visit.

I spoke to Larry before the hearing began and he was very nervous but most appreciative of the many friends and family who came to offer their moral support. After the sentencing Larry had dark circles around his eyes, and seemed visibly beaten down. He maintained his dignity nevertheless.

His allocution speech was effective and sincere, and demonstrated his talent as a trial lawyer, a talent that he is not likely to ever demonstrate in court again due to his permanent disbarment by the KBA. This conviction was for a non-violent crime.

The trouble for Lawrence begin with a DEA raid on the strip club in which they were apparently looking for drugs. The Government had to concede that no drugs of any type were discovered in their raid. The only offense against Lawrence was a claim regarding improper reporting of his taxes.

Judge Reeves was not convinced by the “hardship” argument raised by Lawrence. Lawrence had asked the judge to consider a stay in his sentence for two years until his daughters became adults. He offered to serve the full sentence after the girls were cared for. That request was denied.

It is not known by the author if Lawrence will appeal his conviction. If he does appeal I hope that this will not enhance his sentence.

The conclusion that I, and many of the people in the courtroom, made was that it is not a good thing to have the U.S. government after you.

After the hearing I had more respect for Larry Lawrence, and I also had more respect for Judge Reeves. A judge’s job is not always pleasant, and Reeve’s followed the sentencing guidelines. He did not lecture the defendant. There really was no need for a lecture by the judge. The sentence to 27 months in federal prison, and permanent disbarment from his profession said it all.

I have seen other acquaintances whose careers were destroyed by allegations of scandal. The government is entitled by law to impose their punishment. But people who commit acts found to be crimes, are still human beings, and in my opinion are still worthy of compassion and Christian forgiveness. I wish the best to the Lawrence family, and hope that after the completion of his 27 month sentence, he will be able to repair some of the damage done to his family.

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