Clarett hires new lawyers as trial approaches

Updated: July 28, 2006, 1:41 AM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett has hired two new attorneys to represent him in his trial on burglary and weapons charges.

Clarett fired attorneys William Settina and Robert Krapenc a week ago, notifying them in a single-paragraph letter.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David S. Fais held a hearing Thursday morning to address Clarett's defense. Bailiff Tim Jackson said court papers showed Nick L. Mango and Michael C. Hoague were hired to represent Clarett.

The 22-year-old Clarett is charged with two counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of robbery and one count of carrying a concealed weapon. Authorities said he was identified by witnesses as the person who flashed a gun and robbed two people in an alley behind the Opium Lounge in the early hours of Jan. 1.

"We both feel very strongly that Maurice Clarett is innocent," Hoague said. "There seems to be a rush to judgment in the court of public opinion. This is a sort of kick him while he's down situation."

Clarett, free on a recognizance bond, has an Aug. 14 trial date.

"I'm very confident. I'm just looking forward to my day in court," he said as he left the hearing.

Settina and Krapenc filed a motion Monday saying they did not wish to continue as Clarett's lawyers, charging he has not paid their fees and has not cooperated in his own defense.

But Hoague said Clarett fired the two because he believed very little work had been done on his defense. Clarett's new defense team will focus on the background of his accusers, including the owner of the Opium Lounge, Hoague said.

Clarett scored the winning touchdown in the second overtime to lead Ohio State to the 2002 national championship, the school's first since 1968. But that was the last game the freshman played for Ohio State. He sat out the 2003 season after being charged with misdemeanor falsification on a police report, then dropped out of school. He sued to be included in the 2004 NFL draft and lost in court.

A surprise third-round pick in the 2005 draft, he was cut by the Denver Broncos during the preseason.

Clarett plans to play for the Mahoning Valley Hitmen, one of five teams in the Eastern Indoor Football League. The team, based in Clarett's hometown of Youngstown, begins play in January 2007.

Hitmen coach Jim Terry said Thursday that Clarett has not signed a contract with the team yet, pending a fire marshal's inspection of the team's home field. Clarett's proposed contract includes attendance incentives which cannot be finalized until the fire marshal determines the capacity of the team's arena.

The Hitmen's Web site features mug shots of prominent organized crime figures and a gun sounds whenever a page is opened.

The team's motto is "Get Whacked Indoors."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press