Lawyers for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera on Monday opposed a judge’s suggestion that he make appearances in Brooklyn federal court by video hookup, arguing that it would produce prejudicial publicity about escape risks.
“His absence from the courtroom would necessarily lead to the public impression that Mr. Guzman is too dangerous to be brought to the courtroom,” said a letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.
Guzman was extradited from Mexico to face a U.S. indictment in Brooklyn on Jan. 20. He twice escaped from prison in Mexico, once sneaking out through a mile-lung tunnel dug by confederates into his shower.
He is being housed in a federal jail in lower Manhattan, and his next court appearance is on Friday. Cogan suggested an appearance by video “solely to minimize disruption from physical transportation.”
Public defenders Michael Schneider and Michelle Gelernt said Guzman has been held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with only one hour of exercise, and prevented from making calls to his family or lawyers in Mexico who were fighting his extradition.
They said he has a constitutional right to be physically present in court when the case is discussed, and also needs to be present to restore his confidence in the judicial system after being uprooted without warning while extradition appeals were pending in Mexico.
Late last week, prosecutors asked for an inquiry into why Guzman – who allegedly made $14 billion from his Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking – continues to be represented by public defenders, who are paid by taxpayers to represent indigent defendants.
Gelernt and Schneider, in a response over the weekend, says the incommunicado detention conditions had made it impossible for Guzman to communicate with or interview private lawyers.
“He has not been able to speak to his family at all,” they said. “The decision to retain an attorney is usually a decision a family makes together, after careful consideration. Mr. Guzman has not been permitted to do this.”
Guzman faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if he is convicted on drug trafficking charges. He also faces charges in Los Angeles, Chicago and other jurisdictions.