Four former Peanut Corporation of America executives face a federal jury trial in October, but the pre-trial period has been all about just one of them — Stewart Parnell. The former president of the now-defunct PCA did not get to get his passport back, but the court is going to allow him to keep all of his lawyers. U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands has ruled that Parnell “knowing and voluntarily” picked Kenneth Hodges, III as a member of his defense team even though the Atlanta attorney has a potential conflict in the case. Along with his brother Michael and Blakely plant mangers Samuel Lightsey and Mary Wilkerson, Parnell is a defendant in a 76 felony count indictment for conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and introducing misbranded and adulterated food into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud. Government attorneys, who are prosecuting Parnell and three other former PCA executives on 76 federal felony counts, had argued Hodges should be removed from the defense team. The conflict of interest involves Hodges representing Grey and Stewart Adams, Parnell’s daughter and son-in-law. Daughter Grey worked at PCA’s corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, VA “for many years,” and son-in-law Stewart provided consulting services to the company. When the couple found themselves subpoenaed by the federal Grand Jury that brought the indictments in the Middle District of Georgia, they hired Hodges to represent them. He arranged for their being interviewed at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and as a result they were released from the subpoenas and were never required to testify before the Grand Jury. They were not indicted, but the government maintains one or both could be called as prosecution witnesses. According to Judge Sands, who obviously knows what the government said in their sealed motion, Grey Adams “is an unnamed party in several of the factual allegations in the Indictment.” “Grey Adams, for example, is the ‘PCA Official’ in Paragraph 19 of the overt acts of the conspiracy who suggested via e-mail that employees hose off totes of meal covered with rat feces to fill a customer order,” Sands adds. “She allegedly also received an e-mail from Michael Parnell, another defendant, who said a customer could receive a “generic” Certificate of Analysis, a doucment that certifies that the peanuts for the absence of certain microbiological content.” In his order allowing Hodges to continue representing Parnell, Sands points out how early and often the Atlanta attorney disclosed and discussed the potential issue with all the parties involved. At the “Garcia” hearing, held to let attorneys argue the potential conflict, Sands explained to Parnell that Hodges might not be able to both preserve the confidences of Grey and Stewart Adams and effectively cross examine them as witnesses. Parnell said former federal prosecutor Thomas Jack Bondurant, Jr., is his lead defense attorney, and he wanted to continue to retain Hodges to “help out on local issues.” In his latest motion in the case, Sands cites legal authority that comes down on the side of allowing a defendant “a fair opportunity to secure counsel of his own choice.” He also notes the Sixth Amendment gives the defendant the right to “conflict free counsel,” but notes it may be waived so long as its done voluntarily and knowingly. Sands find Parnell has “knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to conflict-free counsel.” The judge calls Parnell “a sophisticated businessperson who admitted, at the Garcia hearing, to having had detailed interactions with the legal system.” Parnell’s next big interaction with the legal system is going to be a federal jury trial, slated to begin in early October. The trial of the four PCA executives is one of the most anticipated criminal cases involving food safety in U.S. history. The event that eventually landed the former PCA executives in a federal criminal court in Georgia began on Jan. 9, 2009 when the Minnesota Health Department found a pathogen strain know as Salmonella Typhimurium in a jar of previously unopened King Nut peanut butter. Before it was over the outbreak strain sickened at least 714 people in 46 states, resulting in the deaths of nine of those victims. King Nut peanut butter was manufactured by PCA and the outbreak strain was traced back to the company’s processing plant in Blakely, GA. The outbreak the attention of both state and federal authorities on PCA’s practices at both Blakely and a second peanut processing plant located at Plainview, TX. Recalls began with commercially distributed peanut butter before expanding to more than 3,900 products including PCA peanut butter or paste as an ingredient. The cost of all those recalls may have exceeded $1 billion, according to some industry estimates. PCA quickly collapsed under the scrutiny, filing for protection under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy protect act. Parnell and others from PCA invoked their rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to avoid testifying before Congress. The congressional investigation into the outbreak found emails and other evidence suggesting that PCA had knowingly shipped peanut butter and paste that it knew was contaminated. Many victims and survivors called for criminal charges to be filed. Almost four years to the day after they filed PCA’s bankruptcy, the four former officials found themselves indicted on a stunning 76 count list of federal criminal charges. Sands held the “Garcia” hearing on April 22, the last day all parties were present in the federal court in Albany, GA, on numerous pre-trial issues. The judge published his order on May 30.