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Murder Suspect Gets County-Paid Counsel

Accused murderer returning for Feb. 3 arraignment with new attorney.

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Accused murderer Michael Stephens will return to court Feb. 3 with a court-appointed attorney.

Stephens is accused of killing Josh Pipho of Canyon Country during a Nov. 24, 2007 altercation in Stevenson Ranch in which he allegedly stabbed Pipho several times before running him over with his car.

Stephens is also charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Pipho’s friend Chad Weitz during the same incident. He remains in custody at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

Los Angeles attorney Richard Hirsch had been handling Stephens’ defense and had called in renowned private investigator Jack Scully to assist, but all that changed in court Wednesday when Hirsch stepped back and the judge appointed Burbank attorney Betsy Mogul for the defense.

Mogul asked for a continuance of Stephens’ arraignment to bring herself current on the case. The judge calendared the hearing for Feb. 3 in Department H of San Fernando Superior Court.

No reason was given for the switch from private to publicly-paid counsel, but court spokeswoman Mary Hearn said that either the Public Defender cited a conflict or did not have enough staff to assign someone from their office. Mogul comes from one of several panels, comprised of attorneys in private practice, who take on overflow cases and agree to a fixed fee, which is paid by Los Angeles County.

Mogul has been in the news before. During her time in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, her husband, William Leasure, was accused of two contract murders in 1991. His first-degree murder trial ended with a hung jury, but before a second trial was scheduled to begin, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

He was given a sentence of 15 years to life and remains in Mule Creek State Prison, with a parole hearing scheduled in March. Mogul was accused of lying for her husband during the trial, but was tried for perjury and acquitted.