Thursday, July 3, 2014
By Juan Montoya
Across the United States, many lawyers vie to participate s representatives of indigent defendants in the federal courts.
However, because of its stringent professional requirements, only a handful of attorneys are accepted in any of the federal district courts across the country.
In fact, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas Houston-Galveston Divisions where there are literally thousands of attorneys who apply for participation in the Defender Services program mandated by the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C. § 3006A) to ensure that the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment,only some 140 are on the CJA Panel.
The requirements, as we said, are strict. All applicants must have demonstrated experience in, and knowledge of, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and, in the absence of unusual circumstances, shall have the following qualifications:
At least five years criminal practice in state or federal court, or three years of experience as an Assistant United States Attorney or Assistant Federal Public Defender.
It also asks whether the applicant has committed a "serious crime" that includes any felony.
Did the crime involve "improper conduct of an attorney, interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, willful failure to file income tax returns, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, on an attempt or a conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit a serious crime."
The applicant is asked to answer "yes" or "no" to the two questions.
That's why nit was surprising to people acquainted with the personal and professional history of lawyer Baltazar Salazar to see his name in the select list of attorneys who make up the Houston-Galveston Divisions CJA Panel. (Bottom name on second column in graphic)
How can someone who has at least three felony convictions for theft in the 107th District Court in Cameron County get to be accepted to that panel? If the federal judiciary is that strict in its admittance to the panel, how did Salazar manage to get accepted given his convictions?
Those acquainted with Salazar's application to the BISD say that he did not include the fact that he was seeking to expunge those three convictions from his criminal record when he filled out the district's application for employment.
They also said that when he applied – in April of 2013 – he did not tell them that the Texas Department of Public Safety had challenged the 107th District Courts's order of expungement successfully in the 13th Court of Appeals. The decision from the appeals court came down on August 2013, some four months after Baltazar was hired to represent the BISD board.
Later it was learned that a local businessman had filed a complaint against Salazar with the Texas State Bar Grievance Committee because he had paid him $3,500 for the expungement of a criminal case against a relative and Salazar had done nothing for his client.
The CJA questionnaire also asks whether applicants have "any charges pending against you, either in court or grievance committee, that could result in the filing of a malpractice suit, a grievance committee proceeding, or a suit for disciplinary action?"
Is it about time that Salzar update his application with the CJA Panel and admit that he omitted his three felony convictions and that there is a complaint pending with the State Bar against him?
We understand that a complaint has been filed with the chairman of the CJA Panel questioning Salazar's eligibility to be included in the CJA Panel. The BISD is aware that Salazar did not include those convictions (classified as crimes of moral turpitude) and was awarded the legal contract that pays him $240,000 a year.
Will the federal judiciary be as forgiving?
Posted by jmon at 1:35 PM