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Timothy Burke may lose lawyers as criminal case proceeds

During a court hearing on Monday, an attorney representing the Florida journalist said he may need a court-appointed lawyer due to increasing legal fees.

During a court hearing on Monday, an attorney representing the Florida journalist said he may need a court-appointed lawyer due to increasing legal fees.

Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image.
Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)

A Florida journalist who faces numerous computer hacking charges may lose his private lawyers if legal fees continue to mount.

At a court hearing on Monday, an attorney representing former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke said he may need a court-appointed attorney through the federal public defender’s office if he is unable to continue paying for private counsel in the future.

For nearly a year, Burke has been represented by Michael Maddux and Mark D. Rasch, who have worked with Burke on pre-indictment motions that sought to compel the government to return numerous computers, phones and other items seized during a raid on his Tampa-area home last May.

The raid was connected to a cyber crime investigation that centered around several videos leaked to other news organizations that showed former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson engaged in behind-the-scenes banter, as well as an unedited portion of an interview between Carlson and controversial musician Kanye “Ye” West.

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Burke does not deny that he obtained and leaked the videos, but said he was able to obtain them after discovering a publicly-available username and password that allowed him to access a “demo” account for a cloud-based video transmission service.

Government prosecutors say that isn’t the full story: They accuse Burke of conspiring with another individual to scour the internet for user credentials, then making good use of two “compromised” passwords to access a computer server and the website of video transmission service LiveU. On his own, Burke later accessed, downloaded and redistributed raw video files that he did not have permission to obtain, the government alleges.

Burke and his lawyers have successfully characterized the matter as one concerning press freedom, claiming his work is protected by the First Amendment and that the government is targeting him for embarrassing Fox News.

To that end, Burke’s lawyers assert that his activity was “nothing more than good journalism,” and say their client committed no crime.

A federal grand jury disagreed last month, hitting Burke with a 14-count indictment that alleges criminal conspiracy, computer hacking and electronic interception. The indictment counts Fox News and LiveU as victims in the case, along with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and CBS News, whose passwords were compromised to gain access to the servers. (All four companies were referenced in the indictment by pseudonyms.)

Maddux and Rasch have represented Burke in district court and the appellate court over the past 10 months, with their fees largely offset by a legal defense fund launched shortly after the raid on his home.

The precise amount of donations generated from the legal defense fund are unknown — neither Burke nor his lawyers have been transparent about that part of their fundraising efforts — but on Monday, Maddux hinted that money is drying up.

During a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes, Maddux said Burke will “probably need” a court-appointed lawyer “in the event that he is not able to continue paying for private counsel.” Under federal law, Burke is entitled to a court-appointed attorney who is paid for by the Federal Public Defender’s Office if he is not able to afford a private attorney on his own. In some cases, private attorneys are appointed by the court, with legal stipends paid by the Public Defender’s Office.

Maddux asked for such an arrangement, according to court records reviewed by The Desk, saying he has worked with Burke for more than 10 months and had intimate knowledge of the case.

But Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson rejected the offer, saying if Burke could not afford an attorney, the court would appoint someone from the Public Defender’s Office to take their place.

Maddux and Rasch could remain Burke’s legal representatives if they agree to a pro bono arrangement, though they stand to lose out on thousands of dollars in legal fees as the case proceeds. It wasn’t clear if such an arrangement was being discussed; Burke’s lawyers do not return emails from The Desk seeking comment.

Burke has been released without bail pending his arraignment. That arraignment was scheduled for Monday, but has been pushed to a later date. In the meantime, Burke has been ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and must agree to routine substance abuse testing as a condition of his pre-arraignment release.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to Timothy Burke’s attorney as “Michael Maddox.” He is Michael Maddux. 

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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