However much “insider sources” and entertainment sites like to speculate on the health of Lori Loughlin’s marriage, the former “Full House” star and her husband Mossimo Giannulli plan to present a “united front” in their fight prove their innocence in the college admissions scandal.
Loughlin and Giannulli will ostensibly demonstrate this united front in court, by continuing to be represented at trial by attorneys from the same Los Angeles law firm, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Boston. In those documents, the couple’s lawyers rejected prosecutors’ arguments that joint representation by Latham & Watkins LLP puts their clients at risk of their attorneys having divided loyalties between the two co-defendants.
“Giannulli and Loughlin are innocent of the charges brought against them and are eager to clear their names,” the documents state. “And they believe their interests will be advanced most effectively by presenting a united front against the Government’s baseless accusations.”
Loughlin and Giannulli are scheduled to appear in court on August 27, when they are expected to waive their right to separate attorneys and state that they understand the potential for conflicts of interest. Their court date follows hearings two Bay Area couples with similar issues regarding joint representation in the college admissions case: Gregory and Amy Colburn of Palo Alto appeared in court Friday, while Todd and Diane Blake of Ross were in court Wednesday.
Under federal law, every defendant has the right to effective counsel and to have their own attorney. Having a hearing to determine co-defendants are aware of that right is routine and required when co-defendants have joint representation, said former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani.
But while the issue is relatively routine, it frames defendants’ defense strategies and lessens the chance that one spouse will choose to cut their losses, plead guilty and cooperate while the other proceeds to trial, said Rahmani, who tried drug and fraud cases as a lawyer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego from 2010 to 2012.
Defendants therefore lose the potential benefits of cooperating, Rahmani added.
“For the majority of defendants who cooperate, it can result in a significantly reduced sentence,” he said.
In addition, agreeing to joint representation means that, if convicted, Loughlin and Giannulli are less likely to be successful in winning an appeal based on inadequate counsel, Rahmani said.
The Bel Air-based couple are among 33 wealthy parents who have been charged in connection with the federal college admissions cheating case, after allegedly paying tens — and in some cases hundreds — of thousands of dollars in bribes to get their children admitted to prestigious U.S. colleges.
The fraud and money laundering charges against Loughlin, 54, and Giannulli, 55, carry a potential maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. The couple is accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to get their daughters, Olivia Jade, 19, and Isabella, 20, admitted to the University of Southern California on the false pretense of being crew team athletes.
Prosecutors also tend to like co-defendants having separate attorneys because it opens up the possibility that one defendant will choose to cooperate and even testify against the other, Rahmani added. That also applies to cases involving married co-defendants. While spousal immunity means a wife or husband can’t be compelled to testify against their partner, they can waive that privilege and testify if they want, he said.
Hypothetically, if Loughlin had her own attorney, she could be told it would be beneficial to testify against her husband and try to “minimize her role in a fraudulent conspiracy,” Rahmani said. By the very nature of her testifying, that “could lead to the assumption by the jury that her husband was more culpable,” he added.
Another common scenario with married co-defendants is that the more culpable spouse will “take the fall” and plead guilty, Rahmani said. In exchange for one partner’s guilty plea, prosecutors may agree to not charge the other spouse or family members who also are involved in the criminal conspiracy.
From the court documents, however, it does not appear that either Loughlin or Giannulli is ready to take the fall or turn on the other. The couple’s attorneys said they want a “common defense,” and that they understand the risks, including the legal argument that “the best defense for one client may depend on compromising the defense of the other client.”
But the lawyers contend that Loughlin and Giannulli’s interests are aligned and that “a common defense often gives strength against a common attack.”
“Whatever happens, Giannulli and Loughlin will have their interests fully protected, and the case will proceed without undue delay,” the attorneys wrote.
At the August 27 hearing, Loughlin and Giannulli also will address another conflict of interest issue, which centers on Latham & Watkins having USC as a client in an unrelated real estate dispute. Latham contends that it has taken appropriate measures to screen off its work for Giannulli and Loughlin from its work for USC, and its attorneys won’t cross-examine any potential witnesses from USC, documents show. Loughlin and Giannulli have both affirmed in writing that they waive any concerns about Latham’s representation of USC.
At Gregory and Amy Colburn’s hearing last week, the couple submitted signed waivers saying they understood the potential for conflicts of interest by being jointly represented by attorneys from the same San Francisco law firm, according to court records.
Gregory Colburn, a radiation oncologist, and Amy Colburn are accused of paying Singer $25,000 to have a proxy take their son’s SAT in West Hollywood and boost his score, which he used in applications last fall to four colleges including the University of Oregon and the University of Arizona.
In an interview with this news organization in March, one of the couple’s attorneys, Patric Hooper, said, “We’re going to fight like crazy. We think he’s innocent — he and his wife — and request a speedy trial.”
On Wednesday, Todd and Diane Blake also submitted signed waivers to the court, saying they wanted to continue being jointly represented by San Francisco attorney Duane Morris. The Blakes are accused of paying $200,000 to a nonprofit Singer allegedly set up to take parents’ bribes, and another $50,000 to the USC women’s athletic department to get their daughter admitted to the university by having her falsely designated as a volleyball recruit.