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New Local Lawyer Known as a fierce defender of his clients’ rights

New local lawyer joins team helping parents of Lisa Irwin
MARK MORRIS, The Kansas City Star
PUBLICATION: Kansas City Star, The (MO)

SECTION: News

DATE: November 2, 2011

Page: A10
A Kansas City lawyer with strong views about clients speaking with investigators has joined the legal team that is assisting the parents of a missing Northland infant.

Joseph Tacopina, a high-profile New York criminal defense lawyer who is representing the parents of Lisa Irwin, announced Tuesday that Kansas City’s John Picerno would join the case.

A public dust-up late last week between Tacopina and his previous local counsel, Cyndy Short, led to Tuesday’s announcement. Short on Monday said she and Tacopina did not make a good team.

That squabble, and other issues related to the legal representation in the case, has distracted both the investigation and the public’s vital attention to the case, Tacopina said in a written statement.

“While, understandably, the media and the public at large have a great interest in the hunt for baby Lisa and its search for answers, we feel at this time that the focus needs to shift back on the investigation and hopeful recovery of Lisa, both alive and well,” Tacopina said in the statement.

Lisa was 10 months old when her parents reported her missing from the home early Oct. 4. Police reported no new developments Tuesday but continued interviewing people, including one of the brothers of Deborah Bradley, the mother of Lisa, said Capt. Steve Young.

A career defense lawyer, Picerno has won numerous not-guilty verdicts in murder, robbery and assault cases in area courts.

In an interview about the case with The Kansas City Star last week, Picerno said he generally was opposed to having clients speak directly with police because of the potential that their words could be used against them.

“I tell them, ‘The prisons are full of people who talked to the police,’ ” Picerno said. “The police are going to do what they are going to do, with or without your cooperation and your statement.’ ”

Known as a fierce defender of his clients’ rights, Picerno was ordered to jail in 1995 after a judge held him in contempt for refusing to participate in a trial.

Appointed to represent a 35-year-old vitamin salesman on 22 counts of kidnapping, assaulting, raping and sodomizing two women, Picerno told the judge that he was not prepared for trial because he had been working on too many other cases. The judge denied the request for a continuance and ordered Picerno to jail.

In his statement announcing Picerno’s appointment, Tacopina said that, going forward, reporters would hear far less from lawyers in the case.

“In the past week, we have observed potentially vital information regarding possible sightings of Lisa, corroborated by multiple and independent witnesses, take a backseat to announcements of witness meetings with law enforcement and attorney press conferences,” Tacopina said. “The family believes that these distractions shift the focus away from where it should be placed.”

KCTV-5, the Star’s reporting partner, this week interviewed a local woman, Megan Wright, who lives about a mile from the Irwin family’s home. According to her, police said that someone used one of the Irwin family’s missing phones to call Wright’s cellphone about 2:30 on the morning that Lisa disappeared.

“I didn’t have my phone at the time, but apparently there was a 50-second phone call made from one of the family’s phones to my cellphone,” Wright told the station. “I don’t know what was said or who called, or who answered my phone.… We have eight people that live here and only one cellphone at the time, so it was pretty much community, whoever needed my phone.”

Wright said that she dated a man whom police questioned in Lisa’s disappearance. That man has not been charged in connection with Lisa’s case.