Federal prosecutors want to remove Duncan Hunter’s lawyer

Hunter faces trial in January in California

Federal prosecutors say an attorney for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., should not be able to represent him. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Federal prosecutors are seeking to remove Duncan Hunter’s attorney, Paul Pfingst, from representing the embattled California Republican in his upcoming campaign finance case, alleging a conflict of interest.

Pfingst and his law firm, Higgs Fletcher & Mack, should be disqualified from representing Hunter because the firm also represents multiple witnesses who have testified adversely to Hunter’s interests and will likely be called as witnesses in his trial, U.S. attorney David D. Leshner, wrote in a court filing Monday.

The law firm has represented witnesses “who have already provided adverse testimony leading to Hunter’s indictment and are expected to provide equally damaging adverse testimony at trial,” Leshner wrote.

“Higgs’ prior and ongoing representation of these witnesses disqualifies it from now representing Hunter in the same case,” he wrote.

Since March 2017, the firm has represented three government witnesses: Bruce Young, Hunter’s campaign treasurer; Sheila Hardison, Hunter’s campaign fundraiser; and Joseph Browning, Hunter’s congressional field representative. They are represented by John Rice, an attorney at Higgs. 

“Such joint representation by a single law firm of both a defendant and adverse witnesses in the same criminal case presents a textbook conflict of interest that is anathema to the fair administration of justice,” the filing states.

In October, Hunter added Pfingst, a former San Diego County district attorney, to his legal team.

“Congressman Hunter should be able to have the attorney of his choice,” Pfinsgt said in an email. “Not the attorney of the Prosecutors choice.”

Hunter faces a 60-count indictment that also names his wife, Margaret. The indictment alleges they used over $250,000 in campaign funds for their personal use, including overseas travel, bar tabs, golf outings, designer face cream and video games.

The trial is scheduled for Jan. 22 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Hunter’s office and federal prosecutors did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

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