Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee granted a motion from Steve Farese Jr. and Blake Ballin for their removal from the case of Sherra Wright. She is charged with murder in the slaying of Lorenzen Wright, whose body was found in July 2010 riddled with bullet wounds in a swampy field in suburban Memphis. He was missing for 10 days before his body was found.
Farese told reporters that the lawyers' relationship with Sherra Wright had deteriorated to the point where they could no longer effectively represent her. "We owed an ethical duty to her to file a motion to withdraw," Farese said.
The judge appointed a new defense attorney, Juni Ganguli, to represent her. Coffee told her that she must cooperate with her new lawyer. Ganguli said he was notified by the judge about joining the case about a half hour before Wednesday's hearing and he expects to get results of Farese's and Ballin's investigation into the charges.
"It's a big case, and I'm excited," Ganguli said. "It will be fun. It will be a lot of work." Wright told the judge that she would speak with her family to see if they can hire a different attorney. Coffee said he would remove Ganguli from the case if she is able to hire her own lawyer.
Sherra Wright received $1 million from her ex-husband's life insurance policy. She was arrested in December in California, where she had lived for three years after moving away from Memphis. She is accused of conspiring with Billy Ray Turner to kill her ex-husband. Both have pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges.
Lorenzen Wright played for 13 seasons as a forward and center in the NBA, including several for the Grizzlies in Memphis, where he was born and raised. Coffee ordered Sherra Wright held on a $20 million bond in May. During the bond hearing, the judge said his decision to assign such a high bond was partly driven by her bad behavior while being held at a women's jail. She was accused of taking off her clothes, flooding her jail cell and verbally insulting and threatening guards with language Coffee called abusive and offensive.
It was not immediately clear if the alleged bad behavior was the reason for the lawyers' withdrawal. Farese said ethics rules keep him and Ballin from discussing why exactly they stepped down from the case, which has drawn national attention and been featured on television programs.
"These relationships between attorneys and clients are no different than relationships in other areas of your life, whether it's intimate relationships or business partnerships," Ballin said outside the courtroom. "Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don't."
Prosecutor Paul Hagerman said the changing of defense lawyers could slow down the case as it heads for trial. A date has not been set, and the judge has said a trial may not take place until next year.
"I'm sure there will be more twists and turns," Hagerman said.