Judge won't allow Russell Tillis' lawyer to withdraw from case

Tillis, 57, charged with kidnapping, killing, dismembering woman


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge on Monday denied a motion by murder suspect Russell Tillis' lead lawyer to withdraw from the case.

Tillis, 57, who is accused of killing a woman and burying her body on his Southside property, has had eight different attorneys since his arrest in 2015 on charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Tillis is accused of murder in the death of Joni Gunter, whose dismembered remains were found on Tillis' property in 2016, while he was awaiting trial on his initial charges.

Michael Bossen, the seventh attorney to represent Tillis, asked to withdraw from the case -- again. In the motion, Bossen says communication has broken down with Tillis to the point of there being unresolved conflict with him.

"There are rules in professional conduct that will not allow me to get into the details," Bossen explained to Judge Mark Borello in court on Monday. "I have never had a situation where the client has created such conflict."

Tillis, who was also in court, told the judge that he wanted Bossen removed. 

"Mr. Bossen has indicated that I have created a conflict that no longer allows him to represent me," Tillis said. "I want to point out that Mr. Bossen has repeatedly lied to me. For 12 months, he was completely inactive on the case."

But Borello denied the request, saying it's possible Tillis will have the same problems with another attorney and Bossen is the most informed on the case, so he will remain as lead counsel. 

"He is in the best position to represent Mr. Tillis going forward," Borello said. "Therefore, your motion to withdraw as counsel is denied."

Russell Tillis, pictured right, and his attorney Michael Bossen, pictured left, in court Monday.
Russell Tillis, pictured right, and his attorney Michael Bossen, pictured left, in court Monday.

It wasn't the first time Bossen tried to withdraw from the case. In October, Borello allowed Bossen to withdraw. Tillis represented himself for a couple of weeks, then changed his mind, and Bossen was re-appointed as lead counsel. 

Last summer, Tillis complained about his former attorney, James Hernandez, who was also removed from the case. 

Legal analyst and attorney Randy Reep said he sees this as an attempt for Tillis to delay his trial.

"It happens more frequently than you might imagine when there is a defendant, particularly who is appointed an attorney, who doesn't like the person that he has received as his attorney," Reep said. "Frankly, he is trying to prolong his trial." 

Tillis' next pretrial will be Feb. 11.

His much-delayed trial is set for May. It is a death penalty case -- another reason why Bossen will remain on the case, as there are only so many attorneys who can argue a death penalty case. 

The delay could be costly. According to the Justice Administrative Commission, over 90 percent of the cases that it pays for have an attorney fee flat rate varying from $500 to $25,000. For a death penalty case, $25,000 is typical. 

News4Jax requested the amount of money Tillis has racked up in attorney fees but was told that number is still being researched. 

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