A federal magistrate said yesterday he will recommend appointment of a court-paid lawyer to defend a former official of P.I. Properties Inc., a real estate spinoff of Youth Pride Inc., on fraud charges in U.S. District Court.
Magistrate Lawrence S. Margolis said, however, that defendant Robert E. Lee--one of four former P.I. Properties officials charged in the case--would have to agree to contribute as much as he could to the legal costs. Lee responded that he would sell his personal jewelry to help defray the expenses.
Margolis agreed that the court should accept whatever proceeds are realized from the sale of the jewelry, appraised at less than $5,000.
Lee had complained earlier yesterday to U.S. District Court Judge John Garrett Penn, presiding in the P.I. Properties case, that he had spoken to at least 11 attorneys trying to find one to defend him but could not afford their fees.
Penn sent Lee to Margolis for a determination on whether Lee qualified for counsel paid by the court, and it was at that point that Lee offered to sell the jewelry.
Codefendant Mary Treadwell, who also has had difficulty finding a lawyer, appeared with Lee in the hearing before Penn yesterday. In the course of that proceeding, Penn threatened to fine prominent Washington defense attorney John A. Shorter if he continued to miss court proceedings.
Shorter had made initial court appearances for Lee, but since has filed a motion to withdraw from the case. Penn, who has been reluctant to dismiss Shorter and has not ruled on the motion, delayed yesterday's hearing when Shorter failed to appear.
"Find Mr. Shorter," he told a clerk angrily. "I want him here immediately."
When Shorter strode into the courtroom about half an hour later, wearing blue jeans and with a leather jacket slung over his shoulder, Penn told him: "I'm pretty disturbed. I'm not going to tolerate that. Next time that happens, I'm going to start handing out fines."
Shorter said he had not been informed of the hearing.
Penn has agreed to appoint a public defender for Treadwell, accused along with Lee, Charles W. Rinker Jr. and Joan M. Booth, Treadwell's sister, of using P.I. Properties to defraud low-income tenants and the federal government of thousands of dollars between 1974 and 1978. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Accountant Ronald S. Williams, Treadwell's estranged husband who also was indicted in the case, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge earlier this month and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Another hearing in the case was scheduled for May 3.