Legal Ethics

Federal Judge Irked at Lawyer for Playing 'Race Card,' Orders Written Apology

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A federal judge in Texas has rejected a prosecution contention that a defense lawyer should forfeit attorney fees of $50,000 for suggesting to jurors that the prosecution of his client was racially motivated.

But U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen isn’t letting lawyer Noe Garza Jr. off the hook, the Brownsville Herald reports. In an order issued last Wednesday, Hanen ordered Garza to send a “sincere written apology” to the court and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Garza made the suggestion while representing Ray Marchan, who was convicted on June 18 based on accusations he paid $11,000 in bribes to a judge. Garza suggested to jurors that an FBI special agent had been “selective” in pursuing Marchan because of his Mexican heritage, the Brownsville Herald says. Garza said another lawyer had done something similar to the allegations in Marchan’s case, but had not been charged. “Is it the color of skin?” Garza asked.

Asked to show cause why he shouldn’t be sanctioned, Garza filed a brief that offered an apology.

Hanen’s order said there was no evidence of discrimination and Garza’s remark was “truly meritless,” the story says. The judge listed several reasons why “the race card should not be inappropriately played.” Among them: False accusations harm those who have been truly injured by discrimination, sow racial disharmony and damage the judicial system.

Hanen said his opinion should serve as a warning to other lawyers who make baseless allegations. “Counsel should not assume that this court will in the future allow each lawyer ‘one free bite,’ ” he wrote.

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