WEST CHESTER — The disbarred attorney who was sentenced to more than 11 years for stealing from eight clients has asked for a new trial, saying the judge who oversaw the trial improperly limited the amount of time she was given to present her case to the jury.
Through her appellate attorney, Robert J. Donatoni of West Chester, Kristi Ann Fredericks contends in a motion filed Friday that Common Pleas Judge William Mahon gave her less than one day to put on her defense, insisting that testimony in the trial would conclude on its sixth day regardless of where the defense was in its case.
In the end, Fredericks was forced to wrap up her case after only half a day of testimony about complex financial transactions, billing and medical records, emails and letters, the motion claims. The prosecution, on the other hand, was given six full days to put on its evidence, Donatoni wrote in the motion for a new trial.
Mahon, Donatoni alleged in his motion, told the attorneys for both sides and the members of the jury panel that Fredericks’ trial would be finished on May 7, when the jury would get the case for deliberation. That forced Fredericks’ trial counsel, veteran criminal defense attorney Vincent DiFabio of the Paoli law firm of Platt, DiGiorgio & DiFabio, to cut short his case to the jury, and, “make decisions as to which portions of the direct examination (of Fredericks) to present and not present to the jury.”
Mahon’s order that the trial wrap up by a pre-ordained date violated Fredericks’ right to effective assistance of counsel as provided by the state and federal constitutions, Donatoni wrote in his six-page motion.
On May 8, Fredericks was found guilty of 43 counts against her, including forgery, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, tampering with records and unauthorized practice of law. She was also acquitted of eight counts.
“There is a more than reasonable likelihood that a different outcome would have occurred had Mr. DiFabio been able to present an unencumbered defense on behalf of his client,” Fredericks, Donatoni wrote, noting the mix of guilty and not guilty verdicts.
He asked that a hearing be held at which time DiFabio would be able to testify about what changes he had made on his planned defense of Fredericks because of Mahon’s order. As of Friday, no date appeared to have been set for a hearing.
On Aug. 2, Mahon sentenced Fredericks, 43, of Downingtown, to a state prison term of 137 months — or slightly less than 11 1/2 years — to 420 months — or 35 years. It is believed to be one of the stiffest sentences ever imposed on an attorney who was convicted of stealing from clients in Chester County.
At the time, Mahon cited Fredericks’ lack of remorse during her sentencing proceedings as well as her demeanor on the witness stand during the trial as a significant factor for the sentence he fashioned. Fredericks had testified during her trial that she did not believe she had done anything wrong in handling her ex-clients’ cases, and was surprised that the work she had done was being questioned.
“I do not believe that you are accepting responsibility,” Mahon told her during the sentencing proceeding at which several of her victims spoke about the problems Fredericks’ thefts and deception in their cases had caused them. “You haven’t admitted that you stole anything.”
Mahon’s comments came as Fredericks tearfully asked forgiveness for the “pain” she had caused her former clients, hoping for leniency in the sentence that the judge would hand down. “I am truly sorry for everything that happened,” she said. “I truly mean that. I do.”
Fredericks, also known by her married name of Kristi Ann McQuillan, had offices in Malvern, King of Prussia, Coatesville, and Downingtown. She was disbarred by consent by the state Supreme Court in December 2015 after an investigation of various complaints against her by the court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
In his motion, Donatoni does not cite any reason given by Mahon for cutting the trial off by a specified date. May 7, when the case would go to the jury by Mahon’s order, was a Tuesday, in the middle of the court’s week. The jury eventually worked until the following day, Wednesday May 8.
Chester County judges are, in general, loathe to infringe on the time that jurors spend hearing trials. They work hard to make certain that routine cases are wrapped up in a single week, and have been known to keep jurors deliberating late into a Friday night rather than dismiss them and being them back on a Saturday or a following Monday.
But according to Donatoni’s motion, Fredericks’ was not a routine case.
She had been investigated by Chester County Detective Kristin Lund for several months, with new charges being added against her as more alleged victims came forward.
The case, “was a complicated and complex white collar case involving a number of transactions and a number of charges within the case of each alleged victim that needed to be prepared,” he wrote. DiFabio received over 7,000 pages of discovery material, including bank records and legal documents, to which he added his own “voluminous discovery for mounting the defense on behalf of Ms. Fredericks.”
He said that DiFabio had estimated before trial that he would need at least 1 1/2 days, focusing on Frederick’s testimony about each of the alleged victims, “to present a constitutionally effective” case.
The prosecution team, led by Deputy District Attorney Ronald Yen and Assistant District Attorney Tanner Jacobs, rested its case the morning of May 6. That day, after DiFabio began his presentation, Mahon told him, and the jury, that the trial would be finished on May 7.
“Just so you know, I intend on finishing direct today,” the motion quotes Mahon as telling DiFabio. “I have seven more (victims) to go, judge,” DiFabio responded.
“Don’t dally,” Mahon said. “Trying not to, judge. I am trying not to,” DiFabio responded.
The motion asks Mahon to grant Fredericks a new trial. If he does not, the matter will likely be appealed to state Superior Court. Fredericks remains in Chester County Prison, where she was taken following her sentencing.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.