Legal Ethics

Lawyers' Defense of Judge in Criminal Trial Leads to Contempt Case, Ethics Complaint

A South Texas judge acquitted on all counts in a criminal bribery trial last year apparently is not complaining about her representation by defense lawyers Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds during what news accounts portray as an extraordinarily hard-fought and contentious trial.

However, both the judge who presided over the case and the State Bar of Texas have taken issue with the two attorneys. Visiting Judge Steven Smith cited the two for criminal contempt. And the bar has filed a legal ethics complaint contending that the lawyers disrupted and delayed the proceedings in the criminal case against 448th District Judge Regina Arditti, according to the El Paso Times.

Now the bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline is saying, in an amended disciplinary petition filed last week, that Leeds, when delivering a court order to expunge Arditti’s case last year, tried to get court workers to eliminate records concerning the contempt case against himself and Caballero, too, the newspaper reports. The commission also says Leeds tried to use the expungement order to get District Judge Juanita Vasquez-Gardner of San Antonio, who has been appointed to hear the contempt case, to close part of it down.

In May of last year, Leeds “delivered an order expunging records to the court reporters who were transcribing the record with a demand that all ‘tapes, notes, transcripts, records and any and all other documentation’ be immediately destroyed,” says the amended petition. On the same day, Leeds “delivered the order expunging records to Judge Vasquez-Gardner and demanded that she destroy her order of appointment and all documentation related to [Caballero’s] contempt matter.”

The contempt case is ongoing, with a hearing scheduled next month, and trials in the legal ethics cases against the two attorneys, which are being pursued separately, are scheduled later this year.

Among other claimed misconduct during the two lawyers’ defense of the judge in the criminal case, Caballero is accused, in a new contempt complaint filed last week, of showing prospective jurors a drawing of a two-headed monster. One head allegedly was labeled as “DA,” the other as “judge.”

The article doesn’t include any comment from the two attorneys or their counsel, but Caballero said in a hearing last month that she and Leeds are taking the position that they haven’t violated any legal ethics rules, an earlier El Paso Times article reported.

“We are defending our licenses and our reputation and our client,” a subdued Caballero said at a June hearing in her legal ethics case. “We are in a bad spot.”

She is a candidate in a primary runoff election to be held at the end of this month for a seat on the criminal court bench.

Additional and related coverage:

KFOX (May 2011): “Arditti Trial: Convicted Judge Manuel Barraza’s Sister Testifies”

El Paso Times (May 2011): “Prosecutors try to have defense attorneys excluded in Arditti trial”

Stanton Magazine (May 2011): “The Arditti Trial: Stuart Leeds & Theresa Caballero Speak”

KTSM (Nov. 2011): “Leeds, Caballero May Face Lawsuit from State Bar”

El Paso Times (March 2012): “Bar Association takes Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds to court”

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