Battaglini, currently serving a 96-month sentence on racketeering/gambling charges, was in court this morning in an ongoing battle to have his conviction overturned. Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, his hair a little grayer than when he appeared for sentencing two years ago, the soft-spoken reputed mob associate argued that his trial lawyer had improperly advised him on his appellate rights.
"He told me there was no grounds to file an appeal," Battaglini said during an hour-long hearing before U.S. District court Judge Eduardo Robreno in the same 15th floor courtroom where Battaglini and three others were convicted in February 2013.
His trial lawyer, Lawrence O'Connor, appeared as a government witness and disputed most of what his former client said.
Robreno gave both sides in the case time to file written briefs on the issue and indicated that he would rule in about a month. In the meantime, he ordered that Battaglini should remain at the Federal Detention Center at 6th and Arch Streets until the issue is resolved.
From the witness stand Battaglini, 55, said he had little contact with O'Connor after he and three co-defendants were convicted following a lengthy and convoluted trial that ended in February 2013. In fact, he said, O'Connor did not take his phone calls and came to visit him only after Battaglini wrote to the judge complaining that he could not reach his lawyer.
Mob boss Joseph Ligambi was the lead defendant in the racketeeing case. Ligambi and two other defendants were eventually acquitted.
Battaglini said O'Connor told him there were no issues that could be appealed -- a contention that O'Connor disputed. Battaglini said, "I never was on trial before so I was confused." But he insisted he never told his lawyer not to file an appeal.
He also disputed a prosecution contention that he did not want to appeal the conviction because he preferred to serve time in a federal prison rather than a state prison. Battaglini was facing a cocaine-dealing charge in Common Pleas Court at the time. He eventually was sentenced to a five-year to 10-year term after pleading guilty in November 2013. That sentence, under the terms of a plea deal, was to run concurrently with the federal sentence and would end before or at the same time at his federal jail time.
"I didn't care either way," Battaglini said. "My time is my time. A prison's a prison."
But O'Connor testified that Battaglini told him serving his term in a federal facility was an important issue. The veteran defense attorney, a former assistant district attorney, also said he would never advise a client that there were no appealable issues.
"I would never do that," he said. "I'm of the opinion you could always find some issues to appeal."
Indeed, he said a motion he filed with Robreno for a post-trial reversal of the conviction contained the same issues that would be filed in an appeal. Robreno rejected those arguments which included charges that the government had improperly introduced evidence and witness testimony.
O'Connor said he had notified Battaglini's wife that the 14-day period for filing a notice of appeal was running out a few days after sentencing was imposed on July 12, 2013.
The government then introduced a series of emails between O'Connor and Battaglini's wife, including a final email, two days before the deadline, in which she wrote, "Thanks, Larry, for everything, but we're not appealing."
Hope Lefeber, Battaglni's court-appointed lawyer for today's hearing, argued that O'Connor represented Battaglini, not his wife, and that only Battaglini could have authorized him not to file an appeal.
Robreno, who said he would take the arguments under advisement, said it appeared the issue on whether to file an appeal "was left open," but that the legal question was whether O'Connor should have done more to obtain a direct order from Battaglini or whether Battaglini, as the government argued, had the obligation to inform his lawyer.
The appeal question is the first prong of a two-pronged legal battle. If Battaglini is denied the right to file an appeal, Robreno will then decide whether to consider a motion Battaglini filed on his own from prison asking to have his conviction vacated and asking that he be given a new trial.
Among other things, Battaglini has argued that he was improperly tainted with mob associations. He said he was a bookmaker, but insisted that his gambling operation was not tied to the mob.
Battaglini's three convicted co-defendants, mobsters Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Anthony Staino and Damien Canalichio, have had their appeals denied.
Ligambi and mobsters George Borgesi and Joseph "Scoops" Licata were found not guilty, although the government had two tries to convict Ligambi and Borgesi. The first trial ended with the jury acquitting the two of several charges, but hanging on several others. A second trial ended with Borgesi found not guilty on the one remaining count against him and the jury again split -- some acquittals and some no decisions -- on the charges against Ligambi. The government opted not to try the mob boss a third time.