Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Funny how lawyers all stick up for each other -

Whitehead gets 10 years probation

By TOM McLAUGHLIN / Daily News
Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 17:02 PM.

CRESTVIEW — Disbarred attorney R. Scott Whitehead was praised at his own sentencing hearing Monday for his "courageous" efforts to thwart a plot hatched from jail to kill Assistant State Attorney Russ Edgar.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Flowers heaped superlatives upon Whitehead for heroic actions to stop an "assassination" while sharply criticizing his theft of thousands from clients as "shameful and inexcusable."  Ultimately he ruled Whitehead should be adjudicated guilty of the felony crime of racketeering but not serve prison time for it.

Whitehead was given 10 years probation, awarded time-served credit for 300 days he’s already spent in jail and ordered to pay restitution to his numerous victims.

Flowers said he was burdened by "an unusual set of circumstances" in deciding the sentence.

On one hand, he said, he had a once respected member of the local bar who stole from people relying on him for legal assistance.

On the other, he added, was a man who risked his own life to stop a crime with no guarantee his deeds would be rewarded.

"Mr. Whitehead took extraordinary steps, at great risk to his own safety and indeed his own life," Flowers said. "He prevented what I could only describe as an assassination."

Whitehurst was the prosecution’s star witness two weeks ago in the solicitation for murder trial of James Harvey Tipler, another disbarred attorney that called Okaloosa County home.  Whitehead gave law officers detailed information about fellow inmate Tipler’s plot to kill Edgar.

Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore was able to use Tipler’s own words as evidence against him at trial because Whitehead agreed to wear tape recorders inside the Okaloosa County Jail.

Tipler was convicted on two of the three solicitation to commit murder charges he faced.

"There is no question in the court’s mind that he placed himself in grave danger, and that danger may well still exist today," Flowers said of Whitehead.

Before providing testimony against Tipler, Whitehead agreed to plead no contest to a single charge of racketeering filed against him in 2011.

The charge, brought by Edgar, the prosecutor Tipler was convicted of trying to kill, stated Whitehead lied to clients, billed them for hundreds of thousands in services he didn't render and made unauthorized charges on their credit cards.

An addendum of probable cause claimed 27 people had come forward as Whitehead victims.

One woman claimed Whitehead’s inattention to her case caused her to lose custody of a child. Another said Whitehead cost his restaurant business $50,000.

Under terms of the probation, Whitehead, who has had several alcohol-related run-ins with the law, will be forced to undergo drug and alcohol treatment.

Flowers said he would allow Whitehead to travel out of state to take a high-paying job so that he can better make restitution payments to his victims.

Whitehead testified in the Tipler case that he was seeking a potentially lucrative job in North Dakota and told the court he was hopeful he would receive probation when he appeared before Flowers for sentencing.

Tipler’s attorney, Clyde Taylor, claimed in closing arguments he believed the State Attorney’s Office and Whitehead had already struck a sentencing deal when Whitehead took the stand against his client.

"You’ll be reading about Whitehead in a couple of weeks when he’s off to North Dakota because he got probation," he told jurors.

Tim Williams, the assistant state attorney who attended Monday’s sentencing hearing, offered no objection to Whitehead receiving probation on the racketeering charge.

Contact:  Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.

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