Issues arise over Ray's claim of indigency

The Daily Courier/January 4, 2012

Prescott -- A Wednesday hearing in Superior Court did little to shed light on the current state of James Arthur Ray's finances, but it did clarify Ray's request to be declared indigent during the appeal of his June 2011 conviction on three counts of negligent homicide.

Ray, a motivational speaker and author who once attracted large crowds to his events, is currently in an Arizona prison, serving a two-year sentence for the October 2009 deaths of three people at his Spiritual Warrior seminar near Sedona. Kirby Brown, James Shore and Liz Neuman died from heat-related trauma they suffered during the sweat lodge portion of the retreat.

Ray recently asked Judge Warren Darrow to declare him indigent and appoint him a public defender to pursue his appeal, for which he has already filed notice. But a Wednesday defense motion indicates that the firm that handled his trial, Munger, Tolles & Olson of Los Angeles, intends to pursue the appeal pro bono. The only item they hope the public to pay for is the cost of the certified transcripts of the trial, which would likely cost several thousand dollars and are required for the appeals court to review.

Throughout his trial, Ray's attorneys said their client had long been unable to pay their fees and that his business, James Ray International, closed down shortly after the sweat lodge deaths.

Darrow said he still was unable to determine if Ray qualifies for taxpayer aid. Ray recently filed an affidavit stating that he has assets of only $2,000 in a checking account, and debts of more than $10 million, $5.6 million of which he says is in attorneys' fees owed.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk questioned the contention that a man who claimed assets in the millions before his conviction is now all but broke. She asked Darrow to have Ray appear, either in person or telephonically, to swear under oath that he is unable to pay for the transcripts.

Polk mentioned she had noticed that some of Ray's motivational material is still for sale online, and she wanted to know what happens to the proceeds from those sales and what became of his previous listed assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate, cars, furniture, jewelry and the like.

She also noted that the court exonerated his posted bond of $525,000 when Ray was sentenced to three concurrent two-year prison terms for the deaths.

"The state does agree that the defendant is entitled to counsel of his choice and we do agree that attorneys can appear pro bono," Polk said. "And I think the court is agreeing that a determination of indigency needs to be made."

In fact, Darrow did agree, and asked the attorneys to arrange for a time, through Department of Corrections officials, when Ray could be available to make his claim.

Defense attorney Tom Kelly agreed that taxpayers should not have to pay for the transcripts if Ray has the ability to pay, but told the court he was unaware of the nature of Wednesday's hearing and so did not make arrangements for his client to be available.

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