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McCullough's spat with own lawyer in court leads to delay

Usually the lawyers doing battle in the Allegheny County Courthouse represent different sides in the case.

On Wednesday, a nasty split between attorney Chuck McCullough and the man he hired to represent him at his pending theft trial played out in front of a packed courtroom. It ended with defense attorney Patrick Thomassey pulling out of the case because of irreconcilable differences.

"I couldn't get along with Chuck. He wanted me to file motions that I didn't think I could file," Thomassey said after the contentious hearing in front of Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen. "The stuff he filed (about me) was hurtful and nonsense. I have never, ever not been prepared to try a case."

"He's not prepared and has not been prepared," McCullough, 56, of Upper St. Clair told the judge. "(Thomassey) said to me, 'I am not intellectually capable of doing this case.'"

Thomassey denied saying that.

Machen granted Thomassey's request to withdraw and agreed to postpone the case for at least the seventh time. McCullough, a former Republican county councilman who ran for county executive last spring, told the judge that he hoped to hire attorney Jon Pushinsky.

The departure means McCullough's trial, which had been scheduled for Nov. 7, will be postponed until February. Prosecutors accuse him of bilking an elderly client, Shirley Jordan, of $200,000 while working as her attorney.

Because it was Machen's first case of the day, a few dozen lawyers and defendants awaiting their hearings got to witness the spat.

McCullough claimed Thomassey told him during a meeting that he was too busy to interview witnesses before trial, that he did not understand several motions filed in the case and that he usually just handles "shoot-em-ups and murders."

Thomassey denied that.

McCullough resigned his council seat in March to run for county executive, which he said Thomassey encouraged him to do. He lost the Republican primary to D. Raja of Mt. Lebanon.

"At the very least, I had a chance in the primary before all these continuances. I think a lot of people got the perception I was chicken," he said.

McCullough said he did not fire Thomassey, considered him a friend and sends him prayer cards.

"I pray the rosary for him," McCullough said. "I pray that Mr. Thomassey step up and do this case or step out of the way."

Thomassey said McCullough wanted him to file frivolous motions.

"I'm not going to attack the prosecutor or the prosecutor's office. This is not a political vendetta. It's not a political case," Thomassey said. "It's a question of if he committed a crime with Mrs. Jordan's money."

Prosecutors say McCullough tried to abuse his power of attorney to take money from Jordan's $16 million estate, enrich his family and make political donations to build alliances for a 2007 campaign. McCullough has contended that an Orphans' Court judge approved his actions. McCullough faces two dozen counts, including felony theft charges.

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