Tom Liotti, who defended a Merrick physician through his conviction in May on 28 federal drug charges, continued last week to rail against the defense attorney who replaced him as the case entered the appeal stage. This time, Liotti said that his former client, Michael Belfiore, was the victim of “legal malpractice” by his new attorney, Bruce Barket.
Barket has “conceded” Belfiore’s guilt, Liotti wrote in a letter last week to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco, and made claims outside the court record in arguing that Belfiore was convicted because Liotti gave him a poor defense.
“I do not believe that Dr. Belfiore understands the purported legal strategy that is being deployed on his behalf,” Liotti said. “It is clearly defective, and should be withdrawn post-haste.”
Liotti’s chief defense strategy during Belfiore’s trial was to paint his client as one of thousands of physician-victims of Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers’ deceptive marketing campaigns.
However, Barket, in recent court papers, alleged that Liotti had advised Belfiore against taking a plea, when it would clearly have been in his best interest to do otherwise, and of billing Belfiore for hours spent on the phone consulting with a psychic during the trial.
Liotti responded two weeks ago, in a 17-page sworn affidavit, defending his work on behalf of Belfiore and denying that he urged his client to proceed with trial rather than take a plea.
“At the outset, I want to restate that I totally believe in the innocence of Dr. Belfiore: That, in my opinion, the government did not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he was wrongfully convicted,” Liotti wrote. “Nothing that I write or say in regards to this case will ever change these opinions, but I do not support in any way Dr. Belfiore’s motion for a new trial based upon my alleged ineffectiveness as an attorney.”
Liotti said he took issue with the general tone of Barket’s motion, characterizing it as “potshots at a dedicated, well-meaning defense lawyer.”
“The defendant’s rights have been totally neglected by his new lawyers in selling him a bill of goods, which, quite literally, makes no sense,” Liotti said, later adding in a phone interview, that he does not believe Belfiore is guilty.
“I totally support him,” Liotti said. “I just don’t think [Barket] gets there on an ineffective assistance claim.”
Liotti reiterated in his Nov. 13 letter to Judge Bianco that he had advised Belfiore of the risks of going to trial, rather than taking a plea deal, and said that he was continuing to intercede in Belfiore’s best interest.
“As an officer of this court, I am compelled to advise the court of my concerns for a former client,” he said. “In doing so, I have only his interests in mind.”
Barket could not be reached for comment on Liotti’s letter by press time.