Case-fixing Lawyer 'Angry' At Sentencing

Posted: March 03, 1988

An angry Romaine G. Phillips, sentenced yesterday to five years in prison, maintained until the bitter end that he never fixed a case but had been used by former Common Pleas Judge Kenneth S. Harris.

Phillips, 38, a former federal and local prosecutor, told U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle yesterday that he had no remorse because he had done nothing wrong.

"I'm angry," Phillips, who is free on bail, said in a rambling, 20-minute speech to Bechtle. "I'm very angry because Judge Harris saw what I was and he used it . . ."

Bechtle, meanwhile, decided that Harris, whom he had sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in jail, cannot remain free on bail pending appeal.

Citing his belief that Harris' appeal has little chance of success, Bechtle ordered Harris to surrender voluntarily in two weeks to a facility designated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Once imprisoned, Harris must undergo physical and psychological tests to determine whether he has any special problems other than his ill health.

Bechtle was expected to decide today whether Phillips can remain free on bail pending appeal.

Phillips, who was convicted by a jury in January of conspiring with Harris and others to fix cases, said he spoke to Harris only once during the past year and a half.

"The only words he (Harris) ever spoke to me in two years was after the verdict when he said, 'I'm sorry,' " Phillips said. "I don't know if his words were sincere . . . I know that I didn't do it. It's against everything I ever stood for."

Testimony yesterday portrayed Phillips as a compassionate man who wanted to help people, sometimes providing legal services without pay.

Lawyer Joseph M. Fioravanti, who represents Phillips, asked Bechtle to conduct a "balancing" of Phillips' exemplary career with the few months in 1986 during which the government said Phillips succumbed to corruption.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary S. Glazer, one of the prosecutors, said Phillips, whom he has described as "a bag man with a law degree," probably will serve 20 months in prison before he is eligible for release.

During the three-week trial in January, Phillips insisted that he was used by Harris and Conrad Cheeks, Harris' former-judicial -aide-turned-government witness.

Cheeks, however, testified that Phillips had asked that he and Harris refer potential clients to him. "He came to us," Cheeks said.

A secretly made government videotape showed Phillips and Harris exchanging money, which the prosecution contended was a payoff to fix a case. Phillips testified that Harris was passing along a payment to him from a client whom the judge knew.

Phillips also said he had been threatened by people he said were associated with Cheeks and Harris. He said someone, whom he did not identify, showed up at his home and waited for him. He did not elaborate.

His wife, Jackie, also overheard associates of Cheeks and Harris talking in the courtroom during the trial about killing Phillips, Phillips said.

"Even the (FBI) agent came and told me, 'They are discussing killing you,' " Phillips said, adding that unidentified assistant district attorneys also had warned him.

Harris' lawyer, Samuel C. Stretton, said he never heard anything about threats against Phillips.

Glazer, the prosecutor, said the FBI agent was Mike Thompson, but he declined to comment further on the alleged threats.

Calling the sentence and $5,000 fine imposed on Phillips "very very appropriate," Glazer said, "It recognized the fact that Mr. Phillips was substantially involved in the case."

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