Lawyers spar for quadriplegic

A Tampa attorney says he has taken over the case, but the original lawyer says that's not so.

By Rebecca Catalanello, Times Staff Writer
Published March 8, 2008

TAMPA - Who is Brian Sterner's lawyer?

That became the latest question Friday in the case of the quadriplegic who was dumped from his wheelchair by a deputy at a Tampa jail.

There just might be a tug-of-war over the matter.

Until now, Largo lawyer John Trevena has spoken on Sterner's behalf, holding press conferences and accompanying his new client as they made the rounds to New York television news studios.

But Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Friday that the office received word from Tampa lawyer Michael P. Maddux that he would be handling Sterner's case from here on out.

"I've just gotten on the case," Maddux confirmed to the Times Friday night, "and I'll be representing Mr. Sterner."

Trevena begs to differ.

"I am still Mr. Sterner's attorney," he said Friday evening. "I consider myself representing him in all matters. The court will make a final determination in this issue."

Neither attorney would publicly confirm why Sterner's legal representation is in dispute.

Sterner, 32, of Riverview, first went to the media Feb. 11 about his experience at Orient Road Jail, a story that sparked national and international outrage.

Booking video from Jan. 29 showed veteran detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones tipping Sterner out of his wheelchair and onto the floor, where she searched him before putting him back in his chair.

Marshall-Jones, who has since resigned, was arrested Feb. 16 on a charge of abuse of a disabled person, a felony. Despite the arrest, the State Attorney's Office is still processing the case and has not yet brought a formal charge against Marshall-Jones.

Trevena has made it clear he also plans a civil lawsuit in the case.

Reached by phone, Sterner declined to comment.

Sterner's father, Terry Sterner, said that to his knowledge his son is still being represented by Trevena. "I'm unaware if he's changed attorneys," he said. "I'm in Maryland. He's in Florida."

Meanwhile, Sterner called sheriff's deputies to his house about 5:40 p.m. Friday, saying he wants to file charges against a 14-year-old boy who admitted taking paperwork belonging to Sterner, Carter said.

In early February, someone recovered the papers in a storm drain and returned them, Carter said.

Sterner told deputies Friday he had questioned a neighbor boy, who admitted having taken them, Carter said.

Carter said the papers apparently had something to do with a former business Sterner was involved in.

The Sheriff's Office will turn the matter over to the State Attorney's Office, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to press petty theft charges against the teen.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or 813 226-3383.