Ford’s First Trial Set for May

By Bill Dries

U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays Friday set a May 12 trial date for former City Council member Edmund Ford on corruption charges. But prosecutors and defense attorneys will try later to agree on a trial date for separate corruption charges involving Ford and former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president Joseph Lee.

Mays indicated he had no preference which went first but noted that the indictment of Ford on charges he took bribes to vote for a billboard zoning matter has been pending longer than the case in which Ford and Lee are charged together in a separate case.

Ford and Lee are accused of swapping favors – Ford using his political influence to back Lee in exchange for Lee allowing Ford to run up thousands of dollars in overdue utility bills for the Ford Mortuary in Whitehaven. But attorneys for Lee argued they don’t want Lee to face his first trial with Ford as a codefendant after Ford already has been tried once by a separate jury and possibly convicted.

David Howard of Miami, Lee’s new co-counsel, said he and attorney Robert Spence may renew efforts to have Lee tried separately from Ford on the MLGW-related charges.

Mays ordered the severance of the defendants as well as the charges after a superseding indictment lumped Ford and Lee and all of the charges together in one set and one trial. Mays ruled the combined indictment had prejudiced the case, warranting separate trials not only on the two sets of charges but also separate trials of Ford and Lee on the MLGW charges.

Prosecutors remedied the situation with the unusual step of taking the case back to a federal grand jury this month and having Lee and Ford indicted together on only the MLGW charges. The same grand jury also indicted Ford separately on corruption charges related to the billboard zoning matter.

The May 12 trial is expected to last a week. But the other case involving Lee and Ford is expected to take three weeks, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi.