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Blake's Lawyer Seeks to Quit in Dispute Over TV Interview

Harland Braun informs judge that the actor, who is accused of killing his wife, ignored legal advice in agreeing to appear on camera.

October 29, 2002|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Harland W. Braun is seeking to withdraw as Robert Blake's criminal defense attorney, saying the actor ignored his legal advice by agreeing to do an on-camera interview this week from jail.

"No criminal lawyer in his right mind would let a client [be interviewed for television]," Braun said Monday.

Blake, 69, is charged with murder, two counts of soliciting murder and conspiracy in the May 4, 2001, fatal shooting of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, in Studio City.

Braun said Blake's defense could not be adequately summed up during a 10-minute television interview. He said he expressed those concerns to Blake last week but was overruled by his client.

"I just think there is no way I can be a party to this," he said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash, who is presiding over the case, must approve the lawyer's withdrawal.

Braun said he would continue to represent Blake until another attorney is retained. But the substitution of attorneys could delay the preliminary hearing, now set for Dec. 11.

Braun faxed a two-page letter to Nash on Monday explaining his reasons for dropping out of the case.

"The idea that a defendant in a murder case would go on national television to discuss any aspect of his relationship with the deceased or any of the facts surrounding the murder is beyond the comprehension of any criminal lawyer," Braun wrote.

"In my professional opinion, a criminal defendant should talk to the police at the time of the incident if he chooses, as Robert Blake did for four hours, and should reserve any discussion of the facts surrounding the case until he testifies under oath before a jury."

Barry Felsen, Blake's longtime civil attorney, said the actor plans to hire a lawyer "who shares a common philosophy with Robert on the defense." He defended Blake's decision to do a television interview.

"I think it's important that Robert be allowed to talk to the people he's had a relationship with for the past 60 years -- the American people," Felsen said. "He feels strongly that he has to make some kind of public statement."

Felsen, a Century City entertainment lawyer, said he wrote a letter asking the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to permit an ABC news crew to videotape Diane Sawyer's interview with Blake, scheduled for Friday at Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

Blake, best known for his 1970s television series "Baretta," has been held without bail since his arrest April 18 in Hidden Hills. He has given a few jailhouse interviews during that time, but all off-camera.

The request for an on-camera interview is still under consideration, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Eric J. Dubin, an attorney for the Bakley family, questioned Braun's reasoning for withdrawing before the preliminary hearing.

"Mr. Blake has done numerous media [interviews], and I don't see how this would be any different," Dubin said.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, said it appears that Braun is having problems controlling his client.

"What it shows is a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship," Levenson said. "We don't know what's going on -- if this is the tip of the iceberg or the straw that broke the camel's back."

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