‘Waivable conflicts’ take center stage in Donna Adelson’s first case management hearing for Dan Markel’s murder

adelson court tv
The judge wanted Donna to be clear about the potential for conflicts in having shared a lawyer with her son.

Donna Adelson’s first case management hearing took place Monday morning, just over two months after she was arrested for the July 2014 murder of her former son-in-law, FSU law professor Dan Markel, while attempting to flee on a one-way flight to Vietnam. Her attorney, Dan Rashbaum, and Assistant State Attorney Sarah Kathryn Dugan met before Judge Stephen Everett, while Adelson appeared from Leon County Jail by Zoom.

At the time of his murder, Markel and Adelson’s daughter, Wendi Adelson, were locked in acrimonious divorce litigation regarding the location and supervision of their two young sons, and her mother was deeply woven into these conflicts. Adelson was desperate for Wendi to live in Miami even after the court denied her attempt at relocation, and it was Adelson who was caught disparaging Markel to his children.

A lawful resolution of the latter issue never happened because Markel was killed by hit men who were allegedly paid by Mrs. Adelson and her son, Charlie Adelson, before Markel’s motions were heard in court.

Today’s hearing, however, wasn’t focused on the facts of the case but rather on her lawyer.

Rashbaum had represented Adelson and her husband, Harvey, for years, co-signing the infamous August 2016 “fanciful fiction” letter that proclaimed the family’s innocence. He signed this alongside multiple attorneys representing different family members who had been named as co-conspirators to the murder David Oscar Markus and Michael Weinstein signed on behalf of Charlie Adelson, and John Lauro signed on behalf of Wendi. The oldest Adelson son, Robert, didn’t need a lawyer — he was uninvolved in the conspiracy and cooperated with law enforcement from the start.

But shortly after his 2022 arrest, Markus and Adelson broke ties, and Rashbaum transitioned over to defending Charlie. Rashbaum led Charlie Adelson’s (bizarre) defense through his November 2023 trial, which ended with Charlie Adelson’s conviction for first-degree murder, and a life sentence without chance for parole plus 60 years for conspiracy and solicitation.

At the time of Donna Adelson’s arrest, she was represented by defense attorney Marissel Descalzo. Nevertheless, it was clear from recorded jail calls that Rashbaum continued to advise both mother and son extensively through trial and beyond. And then after Descalzo appeared with Donna Adelson for a feisty arraignment hearing, Rashbaum quickly pivoted back to representing the Adelson matriarch. A few weeks after that, Rashbaum added Tallahassee defense attorney Alex Morris to their team.

Rashbaum shared in a recent interview the fondness he feels for her, describing her as “the nicest client” he’s ever had, and as a woman who reminds him of his own mother. Rashbaum’s also told Surviving the Survivor host Joel Waldman that he wouldn’t go to the police if he or his child were the victim of a deadly extortion threat — a position he concedes probably places him “in the minority,” if that’s to be believed at all. Rashbaum also answered that he was drinking either “a Coke or a Pepsi” while on air — a little bizarre to not know which, or perhaps a spontaneous attempt to avoid saying “it’s actually just whiskey.”

But that’s not what Everett had on his mind Monday morning. Rather, the judge wanted Donna Adelson to be clear about the potential for conflicts in having shared a lawyer with her son.

Everett wanted to make sure Adelson was fully aware she is constitutionally entitled to “conflict-free counsel” for representation. She indicated she was aware of this.

Further, Everett reminded Adelson this conflict is “waivable” — meaning Donna and Charlie can each provide Rashbaum with permission to represent the other party, with recognition of potential issues that might arise. For example, if one of them were ever to want to cooperate with authorities against the other, Rashbaum would be required to withdraw because lawyers can’t act against the interest of even former clients without their consent. Donna Adelson understood and affirmed she wanted Rashbaum as her counsel.

No questions were asked regarding any joint defense agreements or communications with or through Wendi Adelson’s lawyer, John Lauro — although recent jail calls between mother and son suggest that inter-attorney discussions are the only way Wendi wishes to communicate about the case with her family members.

Finally, Everett asked about defense and prosecution plans for scheduling a trial. Rashbaum indicated they are in active conversations about finding a date, which could be settled by the next case management hearing, set for Feb. 12, 2024, at 2:30 p.m.

___

Florida Politics provides ongoing coverage of the Markel murder case, which is drawing international media attention to Florida’s capital city. Our reporting draws from sources including contributor Karen Cyphers of Sachs Media, who advocates with the grassroots group “Justice for Dan” to draw attention to the case and provide analysis relevant to Florida’s political, advocacy and legal communities.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


2 comments

  • It's Complicated

    January 22, 2024 at 3:19 pm

    People from all over the country ask me about this case, so it has definitely generated national interest. The Adelson family’s sense of entitlement and inability to read a room is astounding. Huge blind spot for them, IMHO. I wonder if waiving a conflict related to counsel definitively takes it off the table as something to cite in the event of a post-conviction appeal (for Donna). Not sure, based upon what I’ve read and watched that the case against Donna is as solid as the other four convicted, but you never know.

  • The Reality Is

    January 22, 2024 at 7:39 pm

    Dan Rashbaum appeared to signal that Donna’s defense could closely mirror that of Ben Graber’s op-ed. Distance from Charlie. Paint him to be the family idiot. Trash Dan Markel so as to “rehabilitate” Donna’s status as a 5 star mother.

Comments are closed.


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