Crime & Courts

Missing baby's parents' lawyers split in feud

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —A Kansas City lawyer said Monday she was pushed off the case of missing baby Lisa Irwin after it became apparent she could not work alongside the high-profile New York lawyer who had invited her to be his local co-counsel.

Cyndy Short said she had told Lisa's parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, that either she or Joe Tacopina would have to leave the case. She found out last week through the media that she had been dropped.

"Mr. Tacopina and I were not able to work together as a team," Short told reporters outside her office Monday. "Our goals and our approach were so different that one of us had to go, and that someone is me."

Tacopina told the Associated Press on Monday that Short's statements were a distraction from efforts to find the baby. Lisa Irwin's parents issued a statement Monday saying they stood behind their decision to stay with Tacopina.

"After hearing there was a press conference and listening to Mrs. Short's statement, we are further convinced that we made the correct decision," the statement said. "One of the reasons we relieved Mrs. Short was because she was holding her own press conferences, making statements to the media, and giving tours of the home that we were finding out about after the fact. Moreover, we learned the FBI felt Mrs. Short wasn't being productive in the relationship between the family and the agency."

Tacopina, who says he is on the payroll of a wealthy benefactor who would prefer to remain anonymous, has been a fixture on ABC's "Good Morning America," talking about the case. Short said she and 17 members of her team, meanwhile, logged more than 700 hours of volunteer time without pay.

"I was here for 10 days working on the case and Mr. Tacopina was in Rome," Short said. "My idea of how to work a case is to be on the ground to listen to people, to talk to the real people that are involved in the case. My interest was never the media."

Tacopina challenged that assertion, especially in light of Short's news conference.

"When a lawyer is holding a press conference talking about all the great things she did, that takes away from what this case is about," he said. "It's not about the lawyers."

He said he has secured "prestigious local counsel" who would be identified either later Monday or today, when Tacopina gets into Kansas City from New York.

"This individual, I will assure you, won't be on four shows a day," he said.

Lisa's parents reported her missing Oct. 4 after her father returned from a rare late shift and discovered the 10-month-old gone. The couple told investigators they believed someone broke in through a window and stole the child from her crib while her mother and brothers slept elsewhere in the house. Bradley later admitted she was drunk that night and that she had actually last checked on Lisa about four hours earlier than she told police.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers combed woods near the family's home, knocked on neighbors' doors and chased more than 1,000 tips. Nonetheless, police say they have no solid leads and no one has been arrested in the case.

Much attention has focused on Bradley. She said police told her she failed a polygraph test and accused her of knowing what happened to her baby — a claim she has steadfastly denied.

Short said she became involved in the case to prevent a wrongful arrest or conviction. Short, who served as a public defender for 15 years, received the Defender of Distinction Award in 1998 for her dedication to representing poor people charged with serious crimes.

"I've spent so many years sitting on the other side of the table of people who have been wrongfully accused, and wrongfully convicted," Short said. "It felt like this was the moment where I would have a chance to work on that from the right end."

Last week, Tacopina canceled a walk-through of the family's home and news conference Short had scheduled, in addition to forensic interviews of Irwin and Bradley's sons who were in the home the night Lisa went missing.

"I think Mr. Tacopina thought that, when he asked me to get involved, that I would be less aggressive, maybe less involved than I was," Short said. "Maybe just answer or do things that he asked me to do. But when you're brought into a case and you are described as co-counsel, you work, and you work hard, and you work every day, which we have done."