The Dan Markel Case: Charlie Adelson Gets A New Lawyer
Why did his first lawyer, David Oscar Markus, withdraw from the case?
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Today brings significant news in the Dan Markel murder case. Davis Oscar Markus of Markus/Moss, the longtime lawyer of Charles Adelson, is withdrawing from representing his notorious client.
As followers of this case will recall, Charlie Adelson stands accused of hiring two hit men to kill his ex-brother-in-law Dan Markel in 2014. Just last month, after years of being a prime suspect, Adelson was finally arrested and charged with murder. He now sits in jail in Tallahassee.1
David Markus is one of the nation’s top criminal-defense attorneys, with a track record of winning acquittals at trial, and I see his leaving the case as yet more bad news for Charlie. I reached out to Markus for comment; he confirmed his withdrawal from the case but declined to comment further.
Charlie Adelson is now represented by another leading criminal defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Daniel Rashbaum of Marcus Neiman Rashbaum & Pineiro ("MNR"). As some of you might recall, Dan Rashbaum previously represented Charlie Adelson’s parents, Harvey and Donna Adelson. Presumably Harvey and Donna Adelson now have new counsel, since the conflict between Donna Adelson and Charlie Adelson, who could flip on each other (if the prosecution's allegations are true), is not really waivable—and some observers, such as Professor Nathan Richardson, question whether Rashbaum can represent Charlie even if Charlie’s parents have new lawyers. I’ve reached out to Rashbaum for comment, and I’ll update this post if and when I hear back from him.
Why did David Oscar Markus withdraw from representing Charlie Adelson? He declined to discuss this with me, and the notice of withdrawal filed by Markus and his law partner, Margot Moss, simply stated, “Although counsel entered temporary appearances on April 26, 2022, we have not been retained to represent Mr. Adelson for trial in this proceeding.” So in the absence of comment from Markus, here are three theories.
First, it’s possible that Markus wanted out of Charlie’s case—and if so, I can’t blame him. I can think of several reasons why he might not want to continue as counsel. Charlie Adelson is widely reviled—justifiably so, in my opinion—and I’m guessing that he’s not the most pleasant client. As suggested on Twitter by Justice For Dan, it wouldn’t be surprising if Charlie was “asking for shady stuff” from Markus or had an unrealistic view of the case (e.g., “not accepting he’s toast”).
The crime Charlie stands accused of, ordering a contract killing, is particularly heinous. While criminal defense lawyers like Markus are used to having unpopular clients accused of doing terrible things, there’s a difference between Markus’s typical clients, like doctors accused of healthcare fraud, and dentists accused of murder (although, interestingly enough, Markus has another client who’s a dentist accused of murder).
Second, it’s possible that Charlie Adelson wanted Markus off the case. As followers of this case know, the Adelsons are an affluent family, thanks to their successful dental practice and real estate investments, and they exhibit the sense of entitlement that sometimes comes with wealth. It’s possible that, infuriated over Charlie’s arrest and his languishing in prison, the Adelsons blamed Markus for the situation, especially Charlie not getting out on bail, and decided to seek new counsel. (But note that no lawyer, no matter how talented, can get Charlie out of jail right now; murder is a non-bailable offense under Florida law, and the bail aka Arthur hearing takes place on the court’s desired schedule, not Charlie’s.)
Third, it’s possible that Charlie Adelson and Markus couldn’t reach an agreement as to legal fees. Although Markus has represented Charlie Adelson since at least 2016, he hasn’t had to do that much so far. But now that Charlie is behind bars and facing trial, he and Markus probably had to discuss what trial might cost in this case. My guess is that Markus quoted Charlie an extremely high fee to handle the remainder of this case. It’s clear that there won’t be a plea agreement—note the withdrawal notice’s explicit reference to “trial in this proceeding”—and trying this case will involve an incredible amount of work, given the complexity of the matter, the amount of evidence, and the anticipated discovery.
Florida is a very generous state to criminal defendants in terms of discovery—it allows them to take depositions, for example—and while that can be a great benefit to defendants, it also means much more work for defense lawyers. In this case, the government has listed more than 100 potential witnesses; potentially taking 100 depositions would be a huge burden for a boutique like Markus/Moss, which has only a half-dozen lawyers. Any fee would have to account for that—and while the Adelsons are wealthy, their resources are not unlimited. The wording in the withdrawal notice—”we have not been retained to represent Mr. Adelson for trial in this proceeding”—is consistent with the theory that lawyer and client couldn’t agree on the fee for trial.
And it’s not as if Charlie Adelson is now helpless before the prosecution. His new lawyer, Dan Rashbaum of MNR, is a Chambers Band 1 lawyer for white-collar crime and government investigations in Florida, just like Markus. Also like Markus, Rashbaum is a seasoned trial lawyer with dozens of jury trials under his belt—including 30 from his days as a federal prosecutor, all of which resulted in convictions. But I’ll say the same thing about Dan Rashbaum that I said about David Oscar Markus last month: in defending Charlie Adelson, he has his work cut out for him.
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