Witnesses for the prosecution in the Judge Regina Arditti trial stumbled under hard-nosed questioning from the defense, admitting to lying to law enforcement officials and alleging sworn affidavits were incorrect.
David Beagas, who testified in federal court against convicted former Judge Manuel Barraza, admitted during questioning Wednesday in the District Courthouse that he lied to an FBI agent when asked if he had information relating to an alleged agreement between Barraza and Judge Regina Arditti.
Beagas, a former part-time municipal judge, then went on to admit he accepted $200 from an exotic dancer, working at the now shuttered Naked Harem, and then split the client fee with Barraza, who had steered him to the client.
Beagas said he is still a practicing attorney who does not inform clients he accepted a deal to not be prosecuted if he helped put away Barraza. The protected federal witness and now state witness was an attorney at convicted Judge Barraza’s law office on Alameda, and has since taken over the former judge’s practice.
“Do you know you could be arrested? Even now, you made a deal with the feds, but not with the state,” said defense attorney Theresa Caballero during the cross examination of Beagas.
“They’ve told you they won’t prosecute, but you never know.”
Judge Arditti was indicted on allegations of bribery and abuse of official capacity. She is alleged to have entered into an illegal agreement with Barraza where she would hire his sister as court coordinator and Barraza would hire her son as a court bailiff.
The three witnesses prosecutors have called to provide testimony so far have included Beagas, who has been described by the defense as Barraza’s Judas; Jessica Mendoza, who has worked for numerous attorneys throughout El Paso and applied for the court coordinator job with Judge Arditti; and Veronica Maynez, who works for the Council of Judges and was a temporary court coordinator for Judge Arditti.
Beagas’ testimony ranged from admitting to lying to an FBI agent and an El Paso County Sheriff’s Department detective, entering into an illegal fee-splitting, “kickback” scheme with convicted Judge Barraza and taking an exotic dancer to a Travel Lodge hotel for what he described as an interview.
During his testimony, Beagas said Barraza told him about the agreement the convicted judge had entered into with Judge Arditti. He described it as a “quid pro quo,” or somethinhg for something exchange.
Mendoza, who was first questioned without the jury present, offered testimony involving a statement made by Barraza as he walked down a hallway in the District Courthouse alongside Judge Arditti. She said she overheard Barraza say that “everything would be better once you hire Sally.” Sally Mena is Barraza’s sister.
Mendoza could not remember the date when the statement was made, which has become a crucial matter in the trial.
She also said that the certified affidavit, which she signed, had a critical sequence of events incorrect. She said that when Barraza noticed her, he asked her to wait, and then she overheard the statement. According to defense attorney Stuart Leeds, the statement in the affidavit says that Barraza asked her to wait after he made the statement.
Maynez was appointed to work for Judge Arditti as court coordinator shortly after the judge was elected. The veteran courthouse employee offered testimony about Judge Arditti’s interviews for the staff in her court, including the court coordinator job.
Although she worked in Judge Arditti’s office for about two weeks, Maynez said has never been questioned about the alleged illegal hiring of relatives by Barraza and Judge Arditti. She said she has never been asked about the alleged abuse of official capacity relating to the judge.
Maynez, who wrote her own affidavit, said the sequence of events was wrong in the certified document she signed and the defense team was using to ask her questions.
In addition to alleged incorrect affidavits, defense attorney Caballero presented a copy of an email sent to a local newspaper’s website, alleging that a serving juror had texted her boyfriend regarding the case. The statement on the newspaper forum, loosely, stated the jurors were in agreement that Judge Arditti was guilty and that she would be sent to jail.
Judge Steve Smith, who was brought in from Brazos County to handle the trial, questioned the jurors about the text individually in open court. All eleven women and one man denied having sent a text, or to having told anyone else who would then comment on the website.