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Clearwater attorney takes area gang case

MANATEE — A Manatee man facing state racketeering charges will soon have a new defense attorney after an appeals court stripped him of the appointed lawyer who wanted off the case.

Terry Green, 21, is accused of being a member of the drug-dealing gang 3rd Shift. But no Manatee County attorney would agree to take his case, arguing that the state is not paying attorneys enough to handle the complex racketeering cases.

Clearwater attorney Charles Lykes Jr. has agreed to represent Green, according to the office of 12th Circuit Chief Judge Lee Haworth.

Green has been in jail for more than a year since the sheriff’s office began arresting accused 3rd Shift members in May 2008. The state is using past charges of possession of crack cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to sell to convict him of racketeering.

In recent years, the Florida Attorney General’s Office and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office began making racketeering cases in an effort to combat gangs in Manatee. They began charging accused gang members based on the totality of their criminal records in efforts to prove they committed their crimes on a behalf of a gang.

The prosecutions have been successful with dozens of accused gang members receiving prison time for racketeering. But an unexpected roadblock arose as local attorneys in Manatee began refusing to be appointed to the cases, which often involve hundreds of witnesses and mountains of paperwork.

Appointments were needed because the racketeering cases all involve numerous co-defendants, many of whom have been ruled indigent, and local and statewide public defender’s offices can only take one each to avoid conflicts of interest.

Haworth had to begin appointing local attorneys. One such involuntary appointment put Bradenton attorney Greg Hagopian on Green’s case.

When Hagopian filed a motion to be taken off the case, Haworth denied it. But the judge agreed that instead of paying Hagopian the normal $2,500 for a first-degree felony case paid by the state, Hagopian would be paid $110 an hour.

Hagopian argued the money would not come close to compensating him for the amount of work needed on Green’s case, saying the case would drive him out of business. He appealed the decision to the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeal, and in a ruling that surprised many, the DCA sided with Hagopian.

Haworth then approached Lykes, who agreed to take the case. Haworth declined to discuss details Thursday, and Lykes could not be reached for comment.

The appointment is expected to be made official after the 2nd District’s ruling in the Hagopian matter is officially upheld Sept. 11.

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