May 16, 2001 08:50am
Judge Complains About Table Dance
by: Erin McClam
(ATLANTA, GA) -- The judge hearing the racketeering trial of an Atlanta strip club owner chastised defense attorneys Wednesday for courtroom theatrics that included one lawyer standing on a table and stripping off his jacket.
Also on Wednesday, the prosecution apologized for an incident in which an FBI agent threw a videotape at a defense lawyer.
U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt read into the court record a description of Bruce Harvey's table dance during Tuesday's opening statements.
Harvey, who represents a Gold Club dancer accused of selling sex to professional basketball players, climbed onto the table and peeled his jacket off with a flourish to illustrate his argument that his client is just a successful stripper, not a prostitute.
``That conduct could be characterized as disrespectful, as disruptive,'' Hunt told the defense team Wednesday. ``You do have a situation that obviously goes beyond the legitimate scope of an opening statement.''
Hunt said he would take no action now but would consider it if there were any more problems.
The judge also chastised the defense for personal attacks on Assistant U.S. Attorney Art Leach during opening statements. Referring to government witnesses, some of the attorneys said Leach had offered deals to people with criminal backgrounds in exchange for their testimony.
Gold Club owner Steve Kaplan and six associates are on trial on charges of racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The government contends Kaplan sold his dancers as prostitutes to professional athletes, bilked customers through credit-card fraud and funneled money to New York's Gambino crime family.
Leach apologized to the judge Wednesday for a courtroom spat between FBI agent Mark Sewell and Kaplan's lawyer, Steve Sadow, in which Sewell threw a videotape at Sadow.
The confrontation during a recess Tuesday was not witnessed by the jury, but fellow defense attorney Don Samuel complained about it in open court, saying it occurred after Sadow asked Sewell about videotape evidence that was supposed to have been turned over to the defense.
Leach said he had talked with Sadow and ``we have achieved an understanding that we are going to try to improve our relations among ourselves.''
Charges against the defendants include obstruction, credit card fraud and loan sharking. Kaplan also is accused of ordering the beatings of about 20 people who did not repay high-interest loans.
The trial is expected to last well into summer.