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JUDGE EXCUSES 2 ATTORNEYS FROM CARTISANO DEFENSE

Two private attorneys representing the former president of the now-defunct Challenger Foundation have withdrawn.

It is the second time this year that Stephen Cartisano has lost counsel.John Breclaw, Griffith, Ind., and Elizabeth Joseph, Big Water, Kane County, asked 6th Circuit Judge David Mower last week to be excused from defending Cartisano from one negligent-homicide charge and nine child-abuse charges.

Mower granted the motion, appointing legal defender Don Sherer as Cartisano's new counsel. Sherer had already been representing the Challenger Foundation, which is charged with the child-abuse counts. Sherer was appointed to represent the foundation in February after attorney Mitch Barker withdrew because of Cartisano's failure to pay.

Financial reasons were among those cited by Breclaw in his motion to be excused. The attorney said the case requires the subpoenas of numerous witnesses from all around the country - expenses that Cartisano said he could cover.

But so far, "(Cartisano) has not been able to secure those funds," Breclaw stated in the motion. The attorney also cited his own medical problems as an impairment to his ability to represent Cartisano.

Joseph withdrew because she had been assisting Breclaw locally.

Cartisano is charged with negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor, in the death of 16-year-old Kristen Chase, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a Challenger participant who died last June 27 while hiking on the Kaiparowits Plateau.

Challenger, which was shut down by the Division of State Licensing last September, was a "wilderness therapy" program that took wayward teens on a 63-day trek through the Southern Utah desert. Parents paid $13,000 to $20,000 per child for the controversial service.

Following Chase's death, a two-month, multi-jurisdictional investigation led to the homicide charge, the closure of the program and the filing of nine child-abuse charges involving several other teenagers.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in May but was indefinitely postponed after Barker withdrew.

Officials had hoped to go to trial this month.

"I had hoped for an early trial date," said Kane County Attorney Jim Scarth. "Put it this way, the state is ready to go to trial today."

A status hearing has been scheduled for June 27 - exactly one year since Chase died.