ELYRIA — A hearing Friday about the ability of a Sheffield Lake man to retain and pay for his own attorney turned tense at moments as the defendant stood up in an “aggressive” manner and raised his voice at a prosecutor and a judge before sheriff’s deputies stepped in to defuse the situation.
Martin Robinson, 40, is facing trial in Lorain County Common Pleas Court on 22 felony charges for allegedly shooting and seriously wounding Amherst police officer Eugene Ptacek last May during a SWAT standoff at Robinson’s home.
Friday’s hearing was to determine if Robinson would sign financial documents proving he was unable both to hire his own attorney and if he was able then to retain counsel while sitting in Lorain County Jail on $2 million bond. Robinson said he was unwilling to fill out the paperwork and instead asked Judge Chris Cook to appoint him an attorney — over the objections of Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office representatives, who said Robinson has access to more than $300,000 paid out as part of a legal settlement in 2012.
At one point, Assistant Prosecutor Tony Cillo approached the defense table where Robinson sat. Robinson — who afterward told Judge Chris Cook that Cillo had threatened him — quickly stood up, raised his voice in protest and just as quickly was forced back into his seat by three sheriff’s deputies.
Told by Cook to stop being “aggressive,” Robinson replied that Cillo’s movement toward him was “aggressive, and (the deputies) put their hands on me.”
Cillo denied the allegation, and Cook warned the defendant.
“Let the record reflect the defendant is now becoming a concern to the court,” Cook said. Turning to Robinson, he said: “I don’t want to remove you from the courtroom.”
Robinson told Cook he “requires medical assistance” due to the deputies’ actions.
“They aggravated my neck and my back,” he told the judge.
“We’ll see to it,” Cook replied.
Earlier in the hearing, Cook said Ohio law dictates that “more than simply a financial inquiry” governs whether a defendant can received a court-appointed, taxpayer-supported attorney.
The standards under the law are two-fold: “Is the defendant financially able in whole or in part” to hire an attorney, or is he capable of paying but “for whatever reason” unable to contact or retain an attorney, Cook said.
Defense attorney John Toth, appointed by Cook to represent Robinson on a provisional basis until another attorney is found, said Robinson “is not willing” to fill out an affidavit of indigency to assist the court in determining how to proceed.
He also said Robinson “doesn’t know what money he has in his accounts.”
Robinson also told Cook he did not want to represent himself, and that “attorneys don’t answer phone calls from the jail.”
“I’m told I’ll be required to spend upward of $30,000 for representation and that seems outrageous to me,” Robinson told Cook. He also told Cook: “I do not have the ability to pay.”
Cillo said he has proof Robinson has approximately $317,000 in a financial services account, a result of a $900,000 settlement he received in 2012 after suing the city of Cleveland for police brutality in federal court. He also reportedly receives $2,600 per month in Social Security or other disability benefits, Assistant Prosecutor Laura Dezort told Cook.
“Unwilling and unable” to pay for an attorney “are not the same thing,” Cillo told Cook.
If Robinson receives appointed counsel and is later found to have been able to afford to hire his own attorney, “then recompense or compensation is appropriate,” he added.
Robinson was angered at Cillo mentioning the $300,000.
“How did they obtain that (information) unless they obtained it illegally?” Robinson asked Cook. “Maybe the police stole it. They stole from me.”
When Robinson also raised concerns about the hearing violating his right to remain silent, Cook told him that he would not allow anything said at the hearing to influence a jury. He also said he wouldn’t make taxpayers foot the bill for Robinson’s defense if he didn’t have to.
“I’ve been an attorney, a magistrate and a judge for 25 years, and in all that time I haven’t had a man in my court ask for court-appointed representation when he had $300,000 in the bank,” Cook added. “I don’t have $300,000 in the bank.”
Cook said he would rule on the matter “very shortly.”
Robinson was indicted in December by a Lorain County grand jury on charges including attempted aggravated murder, attempted murder, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and inducing panic for the May 31 standoff at his Oliver Street residence in Sheffield Lake.
When the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force and the Lorain County SWAT team attempted to serve Robinson with a felony arrest warrant out of Brook Park for alleged weapons possession, violating a protection order and drunken driving, he refused to answer the door. The Lorain County SWAT team broke down the door, and Robinson allegedly shot at the officers, seriously wounding Ptacek.
Ptacek underwent emergency surgery and is expected to return to work this year. Robinson also was shot three times during the encounter, and he eventually was convinced to surrender after talking to a Deputy U.S. Marshal before being treated for his injuries.
In 2012, Robinson settled for $900,000 a federal lawsuit he filed against the city of Cleveland alleging excessive force by Cleveland Police Department vice detectives. Four detectives, in plainclothes and unmarked vehicles, showed up outside the Northeast Pre-Release Center on East 30th Street on July 10, 2009, where Robinson and two other uniformed corrections officers were guarding a hole in a fence caused by a traffic crash, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in May 2012.
Though both sides told different stories about what occurred, such as whether the officers identified themselves, Robinson reached for his gun during the confrontation and ended up on the ground, at gunpoint, and under arrest for misdemeanor aggravated menacing. That charge later was dropped.
After the city settled the case, Robinson claimed physical and emotional damages including post-traumatic stress. In an interview with the Plain Dealer published May 27, 2012, Robinson told a reporter “I’ll never be the same again.”
“This will affect me the rest of my life. There is no amount of money that will make everything OK,” Robinson told a reporter. “People will look at the settlement and see some closure. But I have to deal with this every day. The people who did this can still carry a gun and badge.”