A former defense lawyer for Alexandria prosecutor William L. Cowhig yesterday called on Cowhig to resign his office because a "cloud of suspicion" lingers despite Cowhig's acquittal last week on a bribery charge.
The president of the city's bar association, Roger L. Amole Jr., agreed in a separate interview that it is "probably a good idea" for Cowhigh to remove himself from the post.
"I believe Billy should resign for the sake of his own emotional and physical health, the welfare of his family, and that of the city he loves," said attorney Leonard B. Sussholz, who conducted a major part of Cowhig's defense at the seven-day trial that ended last Thursday.
Sussholz said yesterday that he is quitting Cowhig's defense team and will not participate in two future trials involving Cowhig.
"In the immediate future he can't function. Even if he is acquitted of the two remaining charges against him, I don't think the cloud over his office would go away. It's the nature of the office, a matter of trust," Amole said.
Cowhig declined to comment yesterday on the two statements.
Cowhig stepped aside temporarily from his officials duties four days after his Aug. 3 indictment on a single charge of bribery and two unrelated charges that he operated bingo games last year that violated Virginia gambling statutes. He continues to receive his $42,500 annual salary.
An Alexandria Circuit Court jury deliberated for 13 hours in acquitting Cowhig of the charge that he received $32,000 in bribes from a major Alexandria bingo operator.
Sussholz said he discussed his "personal belief that Cowhig should resign "immediately, forthwith, and unconditionally" at a meeting with Cowhig yesterday after noon in Sussholz's Alexandria office. Cowhig refused to accept his suggestion, Sussholz said.
"I am concerned about him and about the effects that two pending trials might have. He has been under tremendous pressure, and the things that have been said about him in court and in the press have been terrible. Once he broke down and cried after a day of prosecution testimony. Another defense attorney told me of a similar incident on another occasion. He was always able to assist in his own defense, but the pain and suffering he has endured has been awful. I don't know if I could take what he has taken," Sussholz said.
Sussholz cited the pressures of his regular law practice as the reason he resigned from Cowhig's defense team. Chief defense lawyer Louis Koutoulakos said immediately after Thursday's verdict that he would not be able to represent Cowhig in the future because of "other commitments." Cowhig's two remaining trials are scheduled to begin Jan. 22 and March 5.
Koutoulakos and defense lawyers James M. Lowe and William B. Moffitt could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Sussholz, who is active in local bar association affairs, reiterated that all four lawyers had donated their services and th he had "absolutely" no intention of seeking compensation now.
"Cowhig should resign because he owes it to the city," Sussholz said. "Despite the acquittal, the city is still polarized. It's his decision to make, but if he resigns he would remove any cloud remaining over the high office he respects. He needs guidance now from his friends and supporters and he probably needs divine guidance as well."
Sussholz added that he hoped that "during the holiday and religious season" special prosecutor Edward J. White would drop the two gambling charges "as an act of charity. The gambling charges are improperly drawn," Sussholz said, adding that he thought Cowhig could be acquitted of them.
White said on Friday that he intended to proceed with the two pending trials.
Amole, who testified as a defense witness druing the trial, said yesterday, "I'm happy for him and his family that he has been acquitted of the bribery charge. But I think that in the future it would be very difficult for him to have the full confidence of the polie department again since so many individuals there participated in the investigations" that resulted in Cowhig's indictment.
Amole praised White. who brought the bribery and illegal gambling charges against Cowhig and several other people. "I certainly hope that he continues to do the job. What he has done has been exemplary, both as a special prosecutor and as a trial attorney. I think he's a good man," Amole said.
Amole added that he has no plan "at this moment" to raise the subject of whether Cowhig should resign from the Alexandria Bar Association.