The defense in the Judge Regina Aditti trial almost wasn’t.
Following a bitterly contested opening statement from the defense Tuesday morning, prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office made a motion to have defense attorneys Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds removed from the case.
Joe Monsivais, assistant district attorney, described the trial thus far as “quickly becoming chaos” and asked visiting Judge Steve Smith of Brazos County to remove the defense team from the trial. He said the defense has continued to ignore court orders, continued to level personal attacks against prosecutors and the judge, and basically held the process “hostage.”
“This cannot be allowed to continue,” he said after the jury had been led out of the courtroom. “It will not be possible to get a fair trial.”
When asked by Judge Smith to respond, defense attorney Caballero simply said, “We’re not going to dignify that with a response judge.”
The trial of Judge Arditti is in its first day, following a jury selection process on Monday filled with volatile exchanges between a defiant defense team, the prosecution and Judge Smith. Defense attorneys have filed motions asking Judge Smith to recuse himself because they allege he has made racists comments and will not be fair to their client.
They continue to attempt to enter into the court record statements about the DA’s office bringing forward the case against Judge Arditti simply out of revenge and wanting to bring the district courthouse under their control.
Prosecutors have asked Judge Smith to hold the defense attorneys in contempt, but he has not. The prosecution has refused comment on the case and the motion to remove the defense team. They have refused to provide even a business card.
During the jury selection yesterday, defense attorneys refused to meet with the judge and prosecutors in a hallway behind the bench without the court reporter being present. It was a tense moment that led to a uniformed security officer standing guard just off the judge’s bench.
The courtroom was electric as even prospective jurors questioned attorney Caballero who aggressively questioned the panel, saying the defense would “zealously defend” their client even to their own detriment.
Judge Smith, who weighed the request carefully, denied the motion to remove the defense team, but added that he would keep open the possibility of removing them at a later date. He said he had never before seen such bad behavior on the part of attorneys in the courtroom.
Defense attorneys Caballero and Leeds, who have a combined 45 years plying their trade, are convinced that the process is biased, and that they will defend Judge Arditti tooth and nail.
“The DA has formidable foes and they want us removed. That’s a tactic that violates our client’s rights,” said Caballero outside the courtroom during a break.
“He (the judge) has been threatening me since February. He’s threatened us with arrest. He’s done nothing but threaten and bully us, and we will not be bullied and threatened.”
Prosecutors read into the record an indictment with five allegations, including bribery and abuse of official capacity. The allegations stem from what prosecutors claim was an arrangement made between Judge Arditti and convicted former Judge Manuel Barraza, who allegedly agreed to hire each other’s relatives.
Defense attorney Leeds revealed today during opening statements that Judge Arditti’s son lied on his resume when he applied for the job as bailiff in Barraza’s court. He said Judge Arditti refused to help her son secure the job.
“If the fix was in, he (judge’s son) would never have had to lie. He wanted the job that bad,” said Leeds, adding that former Judge Barraza refused to assist the DA prosecute Judge Arditti.
“She never abused her official position. She did everything right and nothing wrong.”
After the lunch break, defense attorney Caballero re-entered her motion for Judge Smith to recuse himself, but he again denied the request. She also made a motion to have all communications between the judge, the defense, the prosecution and the court bailiff be in written form, or on the record.
The judge responded that communication would be handled as the court sees fit under the laws of the state.
“We have never seen behavior like this on the part of the court,” said Caballero. “We’ve never been threatened to have our licenses taken away, threatened with jail or to be removed from a case. This is why we want everything on the record.”