Bring in the Real Lawyers
In the circus that is the Allen Stanford case, Stanford’s legal team was the clown car: you never knew who was going to pop out next.
This morning Judge Hittner ended that nonsense. Stanford was asking for a change of lawyers and, since an indigent defendant has no right to choose his appointed counsel, Hittner refused to allow Stephen Cochell, Christopher Bebel, and Michael Stanley to represent Stanford.
First, though, in a proceeding that should have been embarrassing to Cochell and Bebel, Hittner inquired into the credentials of Cochell, Bebel, and Stanley. In defending his qualifications Bebel said that a U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota had commended his cross-examination skills, and another had said he was one of the best lawyers who had appeared in his court (this immediately became fodder for jokes by the criminal defense lawyers gathered as spectators); when asked whether he was on the CJA panel, Cochell started to explain that he applied on September 1st before Judge Hittner cut him off with, “yes or no?“.
There were tantalizing hints of issues other than competence: Stanley already represents a potential witness against Stanford; the Government suggested that Bebel, who testified in the coverage case in Judge Atlas’s court, might be called as a witness in the criminal case; Stanford had written a letter to Chief Judge Hinojosa complaining of ethical violations by Robert S. “…” Bennett; in his order Judge Hittner referred to “incidents” during visits by members of Stanford’s legal team to the Federal Detention Center.
Ultimately, Judge Hittner appointed Robert Scardino and his partner, James Bond impersonator Ali Fazel, two excellent experienced (33 years and 11 years, respectively) Houston criminal defense lawyers. Scardino and Fazel accepted appointment to the death march under the Criminal Justice Act, promised to try to be ready for the January trial date (the smart money says that’ll get pushed), and accepted the gag order.
Hittner let Mike Essmyer, the only real criminal defense lawyer on “concierge lawyer” …’s team, off the case, giving Essmyer relief he had sought since July, but kept … on the case for the limited purpose of assisting Scardino and Fazel as requested. He told Essmyer, …, and everyone else who had been associated with the defense team that they remained subject to the gag order, and, referring to the “incidents” at the FDC, ordered them to have no further contact with Stanford.
If Stanford wanted competent, experienced, ethical representation, he made out like a bandit today. If, however, he wanted conflicted counsel of questionable competence, Stanford was this morning’s big loser.
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