County-hired lawyer grilled about advice given to Philpot

2012-08-23T18:30:00Z 2014-01-30T11:54:10Z County-hired lawyer grilled about advice given to PhilpotBy Sarah Tompkins sarah.tompkins@nwi.com, (219) 836-3780 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | An attorney hired to advise the clerk's office during Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot's term testified for about three hours Thursday during Philpot's theft and fraud trial.

Attorney David Saks, who was contracted through the County Council, hobbled to the witness stand on crutches in the morning and testified through the afternoon about a legal opinion he gave Philpot in 2008, an opinion defense attorneys claim show Philpot did not knowingly steal federal funds.

According to Saks' letter, Philpot was in "full compliance" with a state statute concerning the disbursement of IV-D child support incentive funds.

Thursday marked the fourth day of Philpot's federal trial. Philpot, 54, was indicted in 2011 on three counts of mail fraud and two counts of theft of government funds. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each fraud count, and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each theft count.

Saks, who said he was on crutches because he had a problem with an old knee replacement, said Philpot asked to talk to him Nov. 12, 2008, during one of his weekly meetings with Philpot's executive chief deputy clerk, Sandi Radoja.

"He said, 'We have this situation and it kind of fell through the cracks, and I'd like you to do an analysis of the situation,' " Saks said.

He testified that Philpot ripped off the bottom part of a legal pad and gave it to Saks. It had a statute concerning the disbursements of child support incentive funds written on it, and Philpot asked for an opinion by noon Nov. 19.

"I can't remember any other situation where he had given me an assignment in that fashion, where he needed it and needed it now," Saks said.

When questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson, Saks said he was not given details aside from that brief meeting about what he was supposed to address in the assignment. But when one of Philpot's Chicago defense attorneys, Theodore Poulos, showed Saks documents of his billing to the clerk's office, there were notations of at least two other conversations with Philpot about the funds.

Documents showed Saks had researched the issue for several hours.

Benson asked Saks if he would have come to a different conclusion had he known other information, such as that Philpot received the funds in previous years without county permission. Saks said yes.

And when Poulos asked Saks if it had been his responsibility to have all the facts before issuing an opinion, Saks said that it was. He testified that he had not asked Philpot the questions whose answers would have changed his conclusion.

The defense did not call any witnesses after the government finished presenting its case.

Closing arguments are set for 9 a.m. Friday in Senior Judge James Moody's courtroom.

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