Benjamin Dusing, the former lawyer of former Live Well Financial CEO Michael Hild during a bond fraud trial this past April, has labeled allegations against him by his former client accusing him of being “distracted” by other issues during the litigation of the case false. Additionally, lawyers for the federal government have also responded to briefs filed by Hild’s current counsel seeking to either vacate the verdict or to begin a new trial due to insufficiency of prior counsel, saying that the verdict is adequately supported by the evidence presented.
This is according to a series of court filings in the case made by the government in the Southern District Court of New York, which were obtained by RMD. Part of Hild’s argument against the reliability of his former lawyer stems from the possibility that his rights were violated under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees an American citizen the right to a speedy trial with the assistance of counsel. The government contends that Hild’s lawyers were competent, supported by statements from the attorneys themselves.
Hild’s former attorney: allegations of distraction are false
In a sworn affidavit submitted to presiding Judge Ronnie Abrams, Dusing himself says that the allegations from Hild arise from “two critical mistaken factual premises:” that Dusing’s co-counsel, Brandy Kathleen “Katy” Lawrence, was unable to perform adequately since she was also serving as Dusing’s attorney in an unrelated domestic case; and that Dusing and Lawrence cut short a more robust presentation of facts in Hild’s defense in order to meet a hearing date for that domestic case in which Dusing was embroiled.
On the first allegation, Dusing clarifies that he had an entirely other attorney primarily representing him in the unrelated domestic case taking place in Kentucky. While Lawrence was involved in Hild’s defense, the current counsel for Hild attempted to make it seem as though she was Dusing’s only representative in the domestic dispute which is simply incorrect, Dusing said.
“Most of the allegations set forth in the post-trial motion are addressed directly or indirectly simply by pointing out the erroneous factual nature of these two basic factual assumptions from which nearly all of the accusations and arguments presented therein proceed,” Dusing said in his affidavit.
Dusing concluded his comments with a decidedly blunt assessment of the allegations that Hild and counsel have made about his performance in the criminal case and the connection of he and Lawrence to the proceedings.
“Trying the Hild matter before [the Southern District Court of New York] and in this venerable forum was a distinct professional privilege, and I deeply regret that the Court has had to engage in legal arguments that read like tabloid-fodder and which involve the private, personal business of lawyers appearing before it,” Dusing concluded in his affidavit.
Also including an affidavit calling the allegations into question was Katy Lawrence, who relates receiving nothing but positive feedback from the interested parties regarding she and Dusing’s performance in representing Hild at trial.
“The feedback from family and friends that were present for portions of the trial, supporting Mr. Hild in New York, was overwhelmingly positive from beginning to end,” Lawrence said. “Mr. Hild, at all times, beginning before the trial and continuing all the way through the conclusion of the trial and after the trial, made several positive comments expressing his gratitude for our efforts and tireless work on his behalf. I was shocked to learn from Mr. Dusing that Mr. Hild abruptly terminated our representation.”
Government: evidence sufficient to support guilty verdict
Lawyers representing the federal government reiterate that Hild and his new attorneys do not satisfactorily prove that the defense provided by Dusing and Lawrence was somehow insufficient, according to the filed brief.
“More fundamentally, Hild has failed to muster any evidence that counsel’s decision making during the trial was in any way influenced by the desire to shorten the trial and, indeed, the record evidence is to the contrary,” the government says.
Lawyers for the government go on to take issue with the two key requests that Hild has made regarding the trial’s verdict: either that he be acquitted from the guilty verdict reached by the original trial, or that he receive a new trial. The government contends that based on the facts presented in the actual April trial as well as through the sworn affidavits of Hild’s prior attorneys, neither of the requests should be met.
“Hild’s weight-of-the-evidence arguments fail substantially for the reasons that his motion for judgment of acquittal fails,” the government concludes. “Put simply, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find Hild guilty. There is no basis for whatever for any concern, let alone a ‘real’ concern ‘that an innocent person may have been convicted.’ […] Hild’s motion for a new trial should be denied.”
The filing is currently awaiting a response by Judge Abrams.
Hild was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2019 for his alleged connection to a bond fraud scheme involving his reverse mortgage company, Live Well Financial, which had abruptly closed earlier that year. After enlisting New York-area attorneys initially, Hild dismissed them in favor of Mr. Dusing. After the trial was initially delayed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it commenced on April 13, and the jury handed in its verdict on April 30 after four hours of deliberations. Shortly after the verdict was reached, Hild enlisted his new representation and successfully delayed his sentencing from mid-August to early September.
Earlier this month, Hild’s attorneys filed motions in court to attempt to either secure an acquittal from the judge, or failing that to engage in a new trial due to allegedly insufficient representation from Hild’s prior counsel, Mr. Dusing and Ms. Lawrence.
Immediately prior to the news of its closure, Live Well Financial was the seventh-largest reverse mortgage lender in the industry, recording 1,707 Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) endorsements across both retail and wholesale channels in the 12-month period ending in February 2019, according to data compiled by Reverse Market Insight (RMI). It took several months for Live Well to fall out of the top 10 rankings due to its levels of business prior to shutting its doors.
Editor’s note: The language of this story was changed to more precisely reflect the outcome of the April 2021 trial.