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Court suspends Lyons attorney

By STEPHEN NOHLGREN

©St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 1998


One day after prosecutors charged the Rev. Henry J. Lyons with racketeering and grand theft, his legal team suffered a glancing blow.

The Florida Supreme Court Thursday suspended Tampa attorney Grady Charles Irvin Jr. from practicing law for 30 days because of how he represented two professional football players three years ago.

The suspension begins in 30 days, giving Irvin time to transfer client affairs to other lawyers.

Neither Irvin nor officials at the Florida Bar could say how the suspension would affect his work for his most prominent client, the beleaguered president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. For example, it's possible Irvin can still serve as Lyons' spokesman and buffer with the media, a role he has filled since last summer.

During the suspension, however, Irvin must leave all legal matters to Lyons' other attorneys -- Anthony Battaglia, Denis DeVlaming and F. Lee Bailey.

Irvin, 34, traveled with Lyons to Nashville on Thursday to meet with convention board members and hold a news conference. In a brief interview, he said he had negotiated his punishment with the Bar because defending the 3-year-old complaint was distracting him from defending Lyons. "It's taken its toll," he said.

Though Irvin has other clients, Lyons has consumed most of his time, he said. In September, Irvin received five payments totaling $63,500 from a Lyons' family bank account, according to an affidavit prosecutors filed Wednesday. The affidavit didn't say what the money was for.

According to a Bar summary signed by Irvin, he was hired as staff counsel for the National Football League Players Association in June 1994, which gave him access to confidential union files and knowledge of union procedures.

As part of that union job, Irvin prepared grievances in March 1995 for former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Richard Dent. The grievances were directed against the teams, which released the players after injuries.

Then on March 12, Sharpe hired Irvin to sue his team, the NFL and the union. At 7:15 p.m. that day, Irvin faxed the union a letter saying he intended to resign his job as staff counsel. Two days later, Dent also hired him to sue the union, league and team.

Although those suits later were dropped, a Bar referee found that Irvin violated conflict of interest rules by representing both sides in a legal fight. The referee also found that Irvin "misrepresented" to the Bar the nature of his relationship with the union.

A Bar referee, in recommending the suspension, listed that misrepresentation as an aggravating factor. Working in Irvin's favor was the lack of any prior disciplinary action against him. In disciplinary matters involving attorneys, the Bar functions much as a prosecutor bringing charges.

Besides the suspension, Irvin was given two years of probation and must report to Battaglia as a mentor for 30 days.


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