Judge gives Simmons' attorney OK, despite conflict

Comparing it to "go[ing] into a heavyweight fight with one arm tied behind your back," federal Magistrate Judge James Klindt agreed to allow Ronnie Simmons to proceed with his attorney of choice -- despite his having what the judge called a clear conflict of interest.

Over the course of a nearly two-hour hearing, Judge Klindt repeatedly pressed Simmons on the consequences of his decision.

"Mr. Suarez's zeal to represent you may be diminished by his [conflict]," Klindt said. "It could seriously prejudice the outcome of your trial."

Orlando Attorney Anthony Suarez briefly represented Lavern Kelly, an Orlando based lobbyist, who is expected to testify in the federal case against Simmons and Corrine Brown. Suarez says Kelly remains a good friend, but that his brief representation of her was merely "transactional" -- accompanying her to testify before the grand jury.

Prosecutor Tyson Duva said that he expects Kelly to testify that she received emails from Simmons, which she would then push out to supporters and donors in the Orlando area.

Simmons said he was satisfied that Suarez's brief work for Kelly would not diminish his chances of a fair trial, and in any case was willing to take that chance.

Klindt agreed to allow Simmons to waive the right to "conflict-free counsel," although he expressed skepticism.

"I don't know if you compare it to Joe Frazier or Mohammed Ali, but you're going to go into that fight with one arm behind your back," Klindt said. "That's how important having an effective lawyer on all cylinders is. And you want to go into this heavy weight fight with one arm tied behind your back?"

Simmons responded, "Yes."

Judge Klindt is back in court at 3 p.m. presiding over a hearing at which Congressman Brown will update him on her own search for legal representation.


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