By Daphne Duret – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Boynton Beach police say Dalia Dippolito, not knowing she was talking to cop, hired hit man to kill husband.
Did lawyers for Dalia Dippolito use her exclusive interview with ABC’s 20/20 three months ago as a test run for how she’d survive cross examination when she stands trial on charges she hired a hit man to kill her husband?
No one could get Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to believe that Tuesday. The judge leaned back in his chair and frowned when Dippolito’s attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, told him the television interview at his Miami office had been an important part of her trial defense.
In setting the conditions of her house arrest, Kelley had previously ruled that Dippolito could leave Palm Beach County for trial preparations, and Tuesday’s hearing was for determining whether she should be sent back to jail for violating those condition by recording the interview in Miami.
“Candidly, I do not accept this as trial preparation. I think this is a violation of my order,” Kelley said. “But I do think she was acting at the direction of her counsel.”
The judge then ruled that Dippolito will no longer be allowed back at Eiglarsh’s Miami offices and can now only meet with her legal team locally at the offices of defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld.
But he didn’t order Dippolito back to jail.
In another victory for the defense Tuesday, Kelley also allowed lead defense attorney Brian Claypool to stay on the case.
Kelley had threatened to remove Claypool from her case because of statements the California-based defense attorney made after a Feb. 23 hearing where Dippolito tried to have her case thrown out. Claypool told reporters at a press conference that Kelley would grant Dippolito’s request if he “followed the law in the case” but not if he followed “the sensational nature” of video evidence that prosecutors played showing Dippolito arranging for an undercover detective posing at a hit man to kill her husband at the time, Michael.
Dippolito testified for the first time ever at that hearing, saying she, her husband and her sometime lover, Mohamed Shihadeh, fabricated the plot and intended to record it as a showcase they would use to get acting jobs. Her attorney argued that Boynton Beach police officials forced Shihadeh to help them with their undercover investigation by setting her up with a detective posing as a hit man, and Shihadeh in turn threatened Dippolito when she tried to back out of the plot.
The judge ultimately denied her request to throw the charges out, but he also threatened to revoke Claypool’s out-of-state privileges to work on the case for allegedly violating Florida Bar rules keeping lawyers from attempting to tarnish the integrity of judges and from making out-of- court statements that could unfairly sway the outcome of a proceeding.
Claypool told the judge that he had characterized him as a fair judge moments before he misspoke in making the comments in question.
“It’s embarrassing for me to say…what I meant was I felt the tapes were compelling. I felt that it was painful for me to sit here in the courtroom and listen to those tapes,” Claypool said.
Kelley accepted Claypool’s explanation, agreed the Feb. 23 hearing was emotional and said he would have taken Claypool off the case only “as a measure of last resort.”
Though both Dippolito and her attorney escaped punishment from the judge, the hearing exposed differences of opinion among members of her legal team.
Eiglarsh said he was “vehemently opposed” to Dippolito doing the 20/20 interview but was overruled. He said he also wanted to sit with her and ask her the tough questions he anticipates Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams would have asked her on cross-examination, but he was afraid that being that aggressive with her would cause her to distrust him.
Having the ABC reporter question her, he said, was a way to preview how she would do while protecting their attorney-client relationship, adding that Dippolito “has had a general mistrust of all her attorneys.”
He also said most of her time in his office on the day of the interview was spent discussing her case with her attorneys.
“Dalia is very different than many of my clients,” Eiglarsh said. “She is hands on. If we cite a case, she wants to see the case. she wants to know what witnesses we’re calling and what exactly we think they’re going to say.”
After the hearing, apparently not running to spark Kelley’s ire again, Claypool and Eiglarsh made brief statements thanking Kelley for his decisions and declared him to be a fair and considerate judge. But neither took questions as they had routinely done in all the other hearings regarding the May 23 trial date.
In 2011, a jury rejected Dippolito’s defense that she and her husband fabricated the murder for hire plot to score a reality television show. They convicted her of solicitation to commit first degree murder, and Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath sentenced her to 20 years in prison, but her conviction was overturned on appeal two years later.