A judge refused to grant a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a woman accused of killing a young foster child even though a prosecutor's law license had been suspended for months before the trial began.
The mistrial motion had come after news surfaced that prosecutor Joshua Weintraub's law license had been temporarily suspended over a failure to meet continuing legal education requirements. He was reinstated Tuesday after showing the requirements were met.
Opening Statements in Rilya Wilson Murder Trial
The issue surfaced when a Miami Herald reader posted a comment on the paper's website.
Weintraub gave the opening statement in the trial of 66-year-old Geralyn Graham in the slaying of foster child Rilya Wilson. The girl disappeared over a decade ago and her body has never been found. The case led to a shakeup at Florida's child welfare agency. Graham insists she is innocent and has claimed that a state Department of Children and Families worker took the child for tests and never returned.
Graham attorney Michael Matters said the issue was much more than an oversight.
"This is absolutely inappropriate, unethical and wrong," Matters said. "There is no justification for someone practicing law without a license."
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler-Mendez, however, said previous court rulings have made clear that clerical mistakes such as Weintraub's were not the kind of law-license suspension that could prejudice a defendant such as Graham. The judge called it a "ministerial circumstance" and noted that Weintraub had actually earned more than the necessary 30 hours of education credits.
"Once the hours were properly documented to the Bar, he was immediately reinstated and the suspension was lifted," Tinkler-Mendez said.
The office of Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Tuesday that the problem was technical in nature and involved a failure to record legal education course numbers with the Bar. Don Horn, a chief assistant in Rundle's office, said the issue was quickly remedied after it surfaced.
"He is, in fact, eligible to practice law in Florida," Horn said.
Former DCF supervisor Willie Harris took the stand Tuesday and told the jury he removed Wilson from her first foster home after receiving calls from someone who claimed the home was filthy and the girl was in danger living there. Prosecutors are trying to show that caller was Graham.
Lilly Mae Tuft was a frequent visitor to Geralyn and Pamela Graham's home. She told the jury that she saw Rilya being pysically abused. And at Christmas time in 2000, she asked the Grahams why Rilya wasn't there. Tuft said the two women looked at each other, then Geralyn answered.
"She told me she left, went on a trip with one of her friends," Tuft said.
"It's just the expression of her face. It's like her eyes were talking to me, just take me away, just the expression of her face," Tuft said.