El Chapo’s lawyers asked a federal judge on Friday to be locked in the same room with him.
Joaquin Guzman Loera is housed in 10 South, a notorious Manhattan housing unit for high-risk detainees, once described as worse than Guantanamo Bay by a man who’d stayed at both. Lawyers at a court hearing for the ex-cartel leader complained that they have to show him each piece of evidence individually through a plexiglass window, one sheet at a time, to review it with him They asked a judge to find other accommodations that would allow them to be in the same physical space with their client.
“It’s simply not feasible that we can review that volume of discovery with Mr. Guzman on one side of a plexiglass wall,” said attorney Michelle Gelernt, raising the specter of potential constitutional rights violations for Guzman. “We’re saying just lock us on the same side.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldfarb countered that, while it would be more convenient to be in the same room, Guzman has a laptop with all the discovery material, and is able to review it at any time as well as with his lawyers. Judge Brian M. Cogan said he sympathized with the government’s claims that El Chapo, who has escaped from prison several times, posed a unique risk in federal detention.
“I’m not unsympathetic to the government’s position,” that that any movement of him out of the [Special Housing Unit] [...] raises the sort of security issues we’ve [discussed],” Cogan said. “On the other hand, it is cumbersome, very cumbersome.”
“It’s just not feasible to sit there and try to hear,” Gelernt argued. “We still have to, if we’re showing him documents, hold them up one at a time when he’s reading them.”
A judge will go to the Metropolitan Correctional Center to review the conditions under which El Chapo meets with lawyers, a federal judge said Friday.
One of Guzman's former attorneys from Mexico said outside the courtroom he was being treated worse than a Nazi.
“In the Nuremberg trials, the nazis had lawyers they could speak with,” Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza told The Daily Beast. "Criminals of war!"
Gonzales Meza lamented Guzman’s difficulties in reviewing evidence with his lawyers.
“This, in the land of democracy," he said. "Incredible!”
The case against Guzman, the alleged leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, has voluminous evidence for defense attorneys to review. He faces up to life in prison, and the case in the Brooklyn federal court is being jointly prosecuted by attorneys from New York and Florida.
Cogan ultimately decided to send a magistrate judge to the detention facility in downtown Manhattan to review the conditions under which Guzman meets with lawyers.
Guzman raised his eyebrows and looked at his wife when he entered the courtroom on Friday morning. Judge Cogan had recently ruled that while the wife, former beauty queen Emma Coronel Aispuro, is not allowed to visit El Chapo in federal lockup, the two can exchange messages about personal things, or hiring and paying for private lawyers. Cogan also denied Chapo’s motion to be allowed into the general prison population, and that there is good reason to keep him confined to a cell where the lights are on for 23 hours each day.
Guzman’s lawyers said they still plan to file a motion to dismiss after receiving more evidence from prosecutors in discovery. And at the Friday hearing, Chapo also acknowledged and waived potential conflicts of interest for his attorneys at the Federal Defenders of New York, as other Federal Defenders have represented some of the cooperating witnesses against him.
Cogan also sought to set a trial date for Guzman, and Michael Schneider, one of Guzman’s federal defenders, burst out laughing at the proposed trial date of April 16, 2018. Prosecutors said they expect the trial to take between two and three months.
“I recognize it is somewhat aspirational,” Cogan said of the trial date, which is unlikely to be met because of the volume of evidence and expected pre-trial motions. “But let’s give it the old college try.”