Before state Sen. Mike Maroney was charged with soliciting prostitution, his lawyer went on the offensive.
Paul Harris knew police had used a search warrant to seize his client’s phone. They were looking for texts between Maroney, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, and Cortnie Clark, a woman now facing at least 16 prostitution charges.
So an employee of Harris went to a clinic where Clark was receiving substance abuse treatment and brought her to his office to provide a recorded statement. In the video, which Harris provided to the Gazette-Mail, she says her phone is not always in her possession, and she’s never heard of or seen Maroney before.
The video is about a minute long, and grainy. Harris’ associate asks a series of leading questions.
David White, who was then Clark’s court-appointed attorney, said he didn’t know the video had been taken.
Glen Dale Police Chief Ed Vogler, whose department charged Maroney, wasn’t thrilled with Harris’ move.
“Apparently defense attorneys have a whole different set of standards,” Vogler said. “[Police] would get raked over the coals for going up and pulling someone out of drug rehab to get a video statement.”
Harris brushed off the critique.
“My obligation is to be a zealous advocate, and I haven’t crossed the line and I’ll never cross the line,” he said. “But I will not permit the police or anyone else to dictate how I should defend my client when I have an obligation to him to be a zealous advocate.”
Despite Clark’s statement, police charged Maroney last month with soliciting prostitution and related offenses. They filed a criminal complaint loaded with texts between Maroney and Clark, which police say demonstrates a paid sexual encounter occurred between the two. They painted a vivid picture of Clark’s apartment, rife with used condoms, uncapped hypodermic needles, trash everywhere and “an unimaginable amount of human feces and urine throughout.”
Vogler is not the first in law enforcement to question Harris’ legal tactics. In 2013, Harris was indicted for witness intimidation and related offenses, accusations that “gravely concerned” a state Lawyer Disciplinary Board investigative panel that probed the matter. The allegations prompted a countering civil lawsuit from Harris.
The charges trace back to an alleged scheme in which Harris, in the days before a high-profile criminal trial, tried to scare off a witness from testifying against his client.
Harris maintained his innocence. Prosecutors dropped the charges against both Harris and his client after the witness, who was set to testify in both cases, and his wife fatally overdosed.
Although the Lawyer Disciplinary Board expressed concern with the allegations, it had no choice but to clear Harris, given the witnesses that could provide direct evidence about the allegations were dead, according to the panel’s chairman. The board currently has two investigations pending against Harris, which are private until completed.
Clark has replaced White with Robert McCoid, the same attorney who defended Harris in the witness tampering case.
After prosecutors dropped the witness intimidation charge against Harris, he sued the prosecutors’ office, alleging the use of fabricated evidence against him. He was represented by Shawn Fluharty, now a Democrat in the House of Delegates. A settlement was reached, and the suit was dropped; it wasn’t clear Friday what the settlement involved.
The alleged witness tampering wasn’t Harris first personal criminal trouble. In 2007, a grand jury indicted Harris on multiple counts of tax fraud. He represented himself in court and beat the charges.
A stripper named Lola
The ensemble cast could have filled an ‘80s cop movie — there were allegations of a crooked cop, a drug dealer, his win-at-all-costs lawyer, a PI, a confidential informant, and a stripper (alias Lola).
“It did have a lot of film noir window dressing,” McCoid said. “And it got a lot of press.”
It was May 2013, days before the criminal trial of Kevin Junkins, Harris’ client.
Prosecutors were trying to prove that Junkins, then an officer, stole controlled substances from the Shinnston Police Department’s evidence locker and delivered them to Carl Wilson to sell on the streets.
However, they came to believe Harris “paid and threatened” Wilson to change his testimony, according a filing obtained by The Inter-Mountain. They secured multiple indictments against him, delayed the trial, and obtained a court order forbidding Harris from contacting — directly or indirectly — the witnesses in the case.
That’s when Harris, who had been placed on home confinement, hired Adam Parsons, though Parsons would come to serve as a confidential informant for the prosecution.
According to Parsons, Harris paid him $5,000 to buy two burner cell phones, and work with Amanda Towns, aka Lola, to contact Wilson. The Exponent-Telegram reported Towns worked as a stripper at the time. Harris allegedly showed Parsons pictures of Wilson and told him where to find him.
Harris described an arrangement where Towns would rent an apartment in Morgantown where a private investigator he hired would plant recording devices, Parsons said. The idea was to lure Wilson there and convince him to change his testimony against Junkins.
A detective provided Parsons with a recording device and obtained a warrant to surveil Harris’ law office, where Parsons says he made several recordings of Harris demonstrating his intent to make contact with Wilson.
Circuit Judge John Lewis Marks Jr. found Harris violated the terms of his bond by having indirect contact with Wilson and put Harris on home confinement.
Before the trial, however, Wilson and his wife fatally overdosed. The state’s case against both Junkins and Harris collapsed.
“I can’t speak to why they did it,” McCoid said of the prosecution. ”They went off of a witness statement. The witness is deceased, and I don’t mean to speak ill of a dead person, but he was himself a very flawed person. We were eager to try the case but it was not to be, because the witnesses all died, because they were all heroin addicts.”
Harris said he was working within the confines of the law and professional conduct for attorneys in the Junkins case. He called the allegations “outrageous.”
In his civil suit, he argued prosecutors were unprepared for the case and made the allegations against him as a subterfuge to delay the trial.
McCoid said the charges against Harris were baseless, but he was flattered to be asked to defend him. He said the case’s outcome speaks for itself, and he respects Harris’ work.
“He is an extraordinarily intelligent and competent trial litigator,” he said. “He’s a credit to the bar.”
Then-Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer, who was named as a respondent in Harris’ lawsuit, declined to comment.
‘Normal and nice’
In Maroney’s case, McCoid and Harris have similar goals.
Harris is defending Maroney, who he says is innocent. They are seeking a jury trial on the matter. Maroney remains a member of the Senate and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Health, which meets later this month.
Whether it’s his tactics, a high-profile client, or otherwise, Harris said he’s never seen so much detail put into a complaint. (“I am normal and nice,” Maroney allegedly texted Clark in trying to meet up.)
“I wonder how they’re going to prove that Senator Maroney was the guy sending those,” he said. “I mean anyone can send anything from a phone.”
Meanwhile, McCoid is mounting a challenge to the state’s prostitution statute. He says there are too many undefined terms within it for a conviction to hold water. He also questioned the “extraordinary” volume of charges against Clark.
“I find it to be unprecedented in my experience that the prosecution would continue to unload on her, charge after charge after charge,” he said. “It does seem like piling on in a way I have not seen before.”
In an interview, Harris wondered aloud if the prosecution against Maroney is political. He’s a registered Democrat, he said, defending Maroney, an elected Republican. He looks forward to moving past the matter.
“I believe in the innocence of my client, I have plenty of work to do and I wouldn’t be representing him if I had some concern about him.”