Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, May 2, 2008


Page 3


Court of Appeal Says Ex-Football Star Can Appeal Plea Ruling


By a MetNews Staff Writer


By a MetNews Staff Writer

Former pro football player Lawrence Phillips, who starred in college but saw his professional career disintegrate amidst a flurry of legal problems, can appeal the denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea in a 2000 domestic violence case, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.

Phillips has already served a six-month jail sentence in the case. But if that conviction is overturned, it will cut in half the potential 20-year sentence he faces—as a second-strike offender—on his later conviction of seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

Phillips played with six teams in the National Football League and Canadian Football League between 1996 and 2003, and spent a season with the Barcelona Dragons of the now-defunct NFL Europe. But he could never duplicate the success he had at the University of Nebraska, where he helped lead the school to two national championships as a speedy and powerful running back, and has been arrested 10 times since leaving Nebraska.

In May 2000, he was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant, making criminal threats, dissuading a witness, and false imprisonment by violence, as well as several misdemeanors. He posted bond of $130,000 and was scheduled to appear, after several continuances, on Dec. 12.

He did not appear on that date, and later claimed that he had been advised by counsel not to appear because the trial was not going to begin that day. He surrendered the next day after learning that ESPN News was reporting that an arrest warrant had been issued.

After appearing, he agreed to plead no contest to the corporal injury and criminal threats counts, and to serve 180 days in jail as a condition of probation, in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges and an opportunity to defer the jail time until April of the following year, so that he could continue his career with the XFL Football League, which wound up folding after that season.

He was informed at the time that making criminal threats was a serious or violent felony under the Three Strikes Law. He subsequently served the jail term, and also had his probation revoked, then reinstated, on several occasions.

In 2005, he was arrested after he drove onto a field near Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. His car struck two boys, ages 14 and 15, and a 19-year-old man, who reportedly suffered cuts and bruises. The car narrowly missed four other people.

Authorities said Phillips was upset over losing a pickup football game with the youths. He was convicted of seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon and has been in custody ever since, although his sentencing has been postponed several times as he has pursued his effort to withdraw the earlier plea.

Phillips claims that he was coerced into pleading no contest. His attorney at the time of the plea, Eric Bates, testified that Phillips was afraid that if he did not agree to the plea, he would be remanded and lose his XFL job, the money from which he desperately needed.

The judge denied the defendant’s motion to vacate or withdraw the plea, and declined to issue a writ of error coram nobis. He found that the plea was knowingly and intelligently made,

Phillips then filed an appeal, asserting that a certificate of probable cause was not necessary, but alternatively requested a certificate of probable cause, which the trial judge denied.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins, who has since retired, summarily denied the request for a certificate of probable cause, and the Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition for writ of mandate directing that the certificate issue. The Supreme Court, however, ordered the Court of Appeal to consider the merits.

The court, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Walter Croskey, concluded yesterday that Phillips is appealing an order after judgment, not the judgment of conviction itself, so no certificate of probable cause is required.

“We conclude that Phillips’s case fits within the ‘narrow exception’ to the general rule that appeal from the judgment is an adequate remedy,” the justice wrote.

The case is Phillips v. Superior Court (People), B201592.


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