Man accused of being fake lawyer won’t defend himself

By Dale Wetzel

BISMARCK, N.D. – A man accused of impersonating a lawyer in federal courts in Illinois and at least nine other states has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges – and won’t be representing himself at trial.

Howard O. Kieffer, 53, is director of Federal Defense Associates, of Santa Ana, Calif., which promises clients “specialized, creative and tenacious criminal defense, post-conviction representation and zealous Bureau of Prisons advocacy.”

But Kieffer doesn’t plan to exercise his right to defend himself. He pleaded not guilty to mail fraud and making false statements charges during his arraignment Monday.

Bismarck attorney Tim Purdon represented Kieffer at the arraignment, but said Kieffer intends to hire Joshua S. Lowther, of Savannah, Ga., as his defense attorney.

Court records say Kieffer represented a number of clients, including a former St. Louis Blues hockey player who pleaded guilty in East St. Louis, Ill., to plotting to kill his agent, and a Colorado woman who was convicted of soliciting the murder of her former husband.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

Kieffer, of Duluth, Minn., remains free on bond.

He was granted permission in March 2007 to practice law in North Dakota’s federal courts. He did not handle any North Dakota cases, but is accused of using his “good standing” in the state to get permission to practice in other federal jurisdictions. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ordered Kieffer disbarred last month.

The mail fraud charge carries a possible penalty of 20 years in prison, while the charge of making false statements is punishable by five years in prison. Both carry a possible $250,000 fine. The actual sentence would probably be much lighter if Kieffer is convicted, said U.S. Magistrate Charles Miller, who handled Kieffer’s arraignment in Bismarck.

Kieffer defended former St. Louis Blues player Michael Danton, who was charged four years ago in East St. Louis, Ill., with plotting to kill his agent, David Frost. Danton pleaded guilty in July 2004. He is serving a 7«-year sentence at a minimum-security federal prison in Sandstone, Minn.

Kieffer also defended Gwen Bergman, of Aspen, Colo., against charges that she used $30,000 from her mother’s retirement fund to hire someone to kill her former husband.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller, who heard Bergman’s case in Colorado without a jury, found her guilty in May of two murder-for-hire felonies. Kieffer withdrew as her lawyer July 9, after The Denver Post reported that he never graduated from law school and was not licensed to practice law.

Miller has been considering whether to grant Bergman a new trial. Federal prosecutors have resisted the request, saying Bergman’s defense team included a licensed attorney.

Kieffer runs an Internet discussion group on federal prison issues and has been quoted in The Washington Post, and other publications as an expert. The Association of Federal Defense Attorneys once offered an audio question-and-answer session with Kieffer as an opportunity for attorneys to earn required credits in legal education.

Robin Washington, the editorial page editor of the Duluth News Tribune, wrote in a column Monday that Kieffer had asked to be named as a citizen representative on the paper’s editorial board.

“His name was put into consideration. We could do worse than have a nationally recognized federal criminal defense lawyer on our team,” Washington wrote. “Except, by all indications, it looks like he wasn’t one.”