Resolution on Bulger defense urged

By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / June 27, 2011

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A federal judge ordered James “Whitey’’ Bulger’s temporary lawyer and federal prosecutors yesterday to try to reach an agreement about whether the notorious mob boss is entitled to a public defender.

US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf wants Peter B. Krupp, the Boston lawyer who represented Bulger at his initial court appearance on Friday, and US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s prosecutors to report on the results of their discussions by the end of the day today.

Both sides are also expected to file memoranda and affidavits concerning Bulger’s finances.

Wolf plans to hold a hearing Wednesday on the appointment of Bulger’s lawyer.

“This case has been pending for more than 16 years,’’ Wolf wrote. “It is important that the issue of Bulger’s eligibility for the appointment of counsel be decided as promptly as possible to permit the case to proceed.’’

Wolf played a pivotal role in the mid-1990s in exposing the corrupt relationship between Bulger and FBI handlers who used him as an informant and turned a blind eye to his crimes. Although two magistrate judges presided Friday at Bulger’s initial appearance in District Court, Wolf said he intends to handle further proceedings.

Krupp told the two magistrate judges that Bulger is indigent and should have a public defender appointed to handle his case.

Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly scoffed at the suggestion, saying that authorities found more than $800,000 in Bulger’s apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., and that he probably has access to other cash. (Federal prosecutors intend to seek forfeiture of the cash.)

Kelly also said Bulger might be able to get money for his defense from his brother, former Senate president William M. Bulger.

Last night, Krupp said his client’s rights are at stake.

“In this country, there is a constitutional right to the appointment of counsel, and a conviction secured without counsel is an invalid, structurally defective conviction, which is almost universally reversed,’’ said Krupp.

Krupp heads the Criminal Justice Act Board in Massachusetts, which provides private lawyers who serve as public defenders to indigent defendants in the federal courts.

In his order yesterday, Wolf noted that he handled a similar question years ago concerning the appointment of public defenders for Bulger’s former codefendants Francis Salemme, Stephen Flemmi, and Robert DeLuca. They, too, said they could not afford private lawyers and were appointed public defenders.

“Any doubts concerning a defendant’s eligibility should be resolved in his favor,’’ Wolf wrote. “If it is later determined that the defendant is financially able to retain counsel, he can be ordered to repay some or all of the costs of his representation.’’

Bulger’s longtime companion, Catherine Greig, who has been charged with harboring a fugitive, has also requested a public defender.

That matter is also expected to be addressed in court this week.

Saltzman can be reached at