Loose Lips

Tony Cheng’s Trial Could Be Delayed Five Months

What happened to the District's summer of scandal? One minute a lawyer for one of the Jeff Thompson-tied straw donors was predicting a parade through the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, the next, nothing. The only thing carrying LL through the fizzling summer of scandal has been the prospect of an autumn and winter of scandal, especially the December bribery trial of politically wired Chinatown restaurateur Tony Cheng. But now even that could be delayed.

Cheng, charged in June along with his son for allegedly attempting to bribe former taxi commissioner Leon Swain, wants to be represented at trial by Kenneth M. Robinson. Cheng and Robinson go way back—they met 23 years ago when one of Cheng's restaurant employees was kidnapped—but there's a problem. In August, Robinson was suspended from practicing law for seven months for negligently allowing his son-in-law to mishandle clients' money. In order for Robinson to legally represent Cheng at his trial, he's asked to move the trial to next May.

Cheng could always get another lawyer, maybe even one who hasn't been temporarily suspended from being a lawyer. But, according to the motion, Robinson is the only attorney Cheng will trust. The possibility of not being represented by Robinson has made Cheng "very upset," according to a letter from Cheng's daughter added to the motion.

Robinson wasn't available to respond to a request for comment. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The motion to delay the trial also hints at Robinson's strategy for Cheng. Even if Cheng or his son did give Swain money, Robinson seems set to argue, Cheng didn't realize it was illegal, possibly because of his limited grasp of English. Cheng's business could be jeopardized, according to Robinson, "over a $1,500 payment to Mr. Swain that he never understood was a bribe or a purchase of a benefit contrary to the law."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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