BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – With a year to go before the drug lord goes on trial, attorneys for Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman fought in court Friday to remove a literal barrier separating them from their client.
Michelle Gelernt, an attorney for Guzman with the Federal Defenders of New York, groused that Guzman cannot read any of the documents in the enormous case file unless his attorneys hold them up one page at a time against the Plexiglas dividing them in meetings.
“The government indicated there will be 100,000 documents,” Gelernt said. “Are we supposed to hold 100,000 pages to a Plexiglas wall?”
Prosecutors insist that Guzman can access all the files they are required to provide from a computer inside the jail, but his defense attorneys say the lack of personal contact makes it hard for them to stay on the same page.
Until his trial on drug-trafficking charges kicks off on April 16, 2018, Guzman is likely to face 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Complex’s 10 South wing, per the terms of a May 4 ruling.
The cartel leader already escaped from high-security lockups in Mexico twice before, and U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan has been reluctant to overlook this record.
“I don’t believe that you even believe that this rises to a Sixth Amendment violation, right?” Cogan told Gelernt, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s due-process protections.
“Your Honor, I think it does,” Gelernt replied.
With the judge having already refused to let Amnesty International observe the jail, Gelernt pushed Friday to have Cogan enter the prison himself to find a workable alternative.
Splitting the difference, Cogan ruled: “I want to refer it to a magistrate judge.”
That magistrate will then write up a report recommending a secure system for attorney-client visitation.
Cogan also this morning resolved a challenge to Guzman’s representation: Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg argued that there could be a conflict-of-interest since the Federal Defenders of New York also represent four of the witnesses against Guzman.
Cogan offered to assign Guzman another lawyer who had no conflict, but Guzman responded that he was satisfied with his legal representation.
“Thank you, but I would like to continue with the attorneys I’ve had until today,” Guzman said.
The Federal Defenders also assured the court that there is no overlap between the attorneys representing Guzman and those for the prosecution’s witnesses.
Guzman has been denied family visitation in prison, but an intriguing plot twist regarding his bloodline trailed the unfolding legal drama.
After today’s proceedings, a woman calling herself the eldest of Guzman’s 16 children walked out of the courthouse next to attorney Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, who previously represented El Chapo in Mexico.
Back when the The Guardian profiled her last year, Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz made the explosive claim that her drug-lord father bankrolled Mexican politicians and entered the United States twice after a prison break.
The March 4, 2016, story ignited instant controversy: Guzman’s wife Emma Coronel denied her husband had any daughter by that name, and the Mexican daily La Jornada even cast doubt on Guzman Ortiz’s name.
Three days after publication, Guzman Ortiz agreed to take a DNA test to prove her tale.
The Guardian meanwhile has stood by its original article.
In an interview conducted in Spanish, El Chapo’s former attorney Gonzalez Meza said he now represents Guzman Ortiz, and he complained that the United States government is treating her father worse than a war criminal.
“It reminds me of the Nuremberg trials,” said Gonzalez Meza, as a heavy rain poured down outside the courthouse.
Contrasting his client’s treatment against the Nazis on the dock, Gonzalez Meza said: “They won’t let Chapo see his lawyers? Incredible!”
“In the country of democracy,” he laughed, before walking away to seek a New York City taxi.
Judge Cogan slated the next hearing for Aug. 15 at 10 a.m.