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El Chapo’s rage-filled’ lawyer: There is not a case, I can’t win

Joaquin Guzman, the lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman speaks with journalists as he leaves Brooklyn Federal court after opening arguments in the trial of the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo,” Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
(Mary Altaffer / AP)

Almost four decades after seeing “The Verdict”, a critically acclaimed Paul Newman legal drama that motivated a young Jeffrey Lichtman for a career in the law, the well-known lawyer, is drawing criticism of its own as the man who is the world’s most notorious accused drug kingpin: Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

“The criminal law is the only law that had no interest for me. It was the only thing that I felt was a real drama, any real life or death moments. I enjoy the pressure,” Lichtman told Fox News in an interview Saturday. “I wanted to not have the responsibility, I didn’t want to fight about money, I didn’t want to fight about a property. I wanted to fight for freedom.”

Lichtman faced with a huge U.S. government’s prosecution case against de Guzman, but said that, despite what some have characterized as the myths and chaos around the suspected druglord, he can win an acquittal.

“What drives me, what makes me rage-filled, is the thought that someone not take me seriously enough in my ability to win a case,” Lichtman said. “Nothing gets me crazier than the thought that someone thinks that I can’t win or don’t appreciate my abilities.

“I’m at the stage now where there is not a case, I think that I can’t win. That is what makes me crazy. If the prosecutors are sleeping, or taking a free day, I’m at work. I am not to work but to work. I am working to win.”

Some AMERICAN law enforcement officials say Guzman, 61, had long been a fan of the mafia world, and in particular, the Gotti family, which Lichtman previously defended. But Lichtman insisted Guzman knew nothing of the lawyer’s past clientele, and said that the two are connected by means of a reference.

The court filings showed Guzman had an encounter with at least 16 lawyers ahead of the trial, eventually settling on three – Lichtman, Eduardo Balarezo, and William Purpura. Lichtman said that the large volume of material to wade through with a three-man trial team is a necessity.

But sharing the stage has its own challenges, such as not getting as much time for the judges to get to know you.

“When you try a case, a difficult case, a part of the meaning of doing the cross-examination is that you want to do it the cross-examination of the way in which you want them to be done. But you also want as much face time you can in front of the jury,” he explained. “The more time you spend with the jury, opening and closing, the more time you spend with them, the greater the relationship is. When you are not standing up for each witness you develop a lesser of a relationship.”

In addition to his role in the current trial, Lichtman is best known for winning an acquittal for the former mafia boss John Gotti Jr. in 2005. He took the case in which the son of the notorious Gambino crime boss, which concluded with the throwing of the three murder conspiracy charges, a $25 million securities fraud charge, and a deadlocked jury on every remaining count.

Gotti walked away from the case a free man.

That was not Lichtman is only to win. In May of this year, the New Jersey native has defended a Queens obstetrician/gynecologist and prominent abortion doctor, Dr. Robert Rho, in his trial for reckless homicide after the July 2016 the death of a patient after a very late term abortion, around the period of six months.

John Gotti Jr. is to see in a new A&E documentary on John Gotti.
(A&E)

Prosecutors offered evidence that Rho had administered a heavy sedative Propofol, rather than the use of a licensed anesthesiologist, as a matter of urgency by means of the procedure in one day, instead of the standard two to three, ripped from the patient’s cervix, perforated her uterine wall and severed her uterine artery, all for the purpose of discharging her from his now-closed clinic in spite of being ill and disoriented – prompting her to bleed to death later in the evening.

Even before the failed procedure, Rho had been investigated by state officials over concerns he was performing abortions preposterous, and the hiring of assistants without adequate training.

But Lichtman argued that the 30-year-old patient, Jamie Morales, had deliberately lied about her serious medical history. They also do not report it to the doctor she was suffering from Lupus, an auto-immune disorder which in turn can lead to excessive bleeding, and should tissue more susceptible to tearing.

27 April: Dr. Robert Rho walks to the courtroom for his trial at Queens County criminal Court in New York.
(AP)

The jury came back on the third day, in a deadlock situation. Rho then suddenly took took a guilty plea to an uncharged, less included offense of criminally negligent homicide. Instead of 15 years behind bars, Rho received a sentence of about 15 months, with the eligible for work release months earlier. For his lawyer, it was a clear victory.

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“Each case is different. You basically try to break down the government’s case, and in some cases, where there are cooperating witnesses who you want to attack their credibility,” Lichtman explained of his strategy. “In cases like this with the abortion doctor, we wanted to attack their science, and what according to them was the reason why this patient and her fetus died. You try to look for the most vulnerable part of their case and exploit.”

A part of his drive to dig deep, he noted, stems from insatiable anger.

“To do this effectively you need to have a chip on your shoulder, a large extent. When I was younger, I thought that I would outgrow the anger, but I never did,” Lichtman joked. “If you’re a happy lawyer, you have a shi*ty lawyer. This is something you need to vent your spleen, and the way I vent is in the courtroom. The happiest I am in a trial cross-examining a witness.”

That makes Guzman the perfect therapy for the 53-year-old lawyer.

“This is the kind of profession that you can do very safe if you want. You can you less or less high-profile, and have an easier life,” he continued. “But I just feel if you do this, you have people whose lives are in your hands, so how can you half-ass? I always have the feeling that I won’t be able to look at my customers in the face if they ask me to help save their lives if I am not willing to take on anyone, no matter how bad or difficult the case is.”

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, center, sits next to his attorney, Eduardo Balarezo, left, for the opening of accounts as Guzman’s high-security trial will start in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
(Elizabeth Williams via AP)

And with Chapo’s shame comes layers of complexity.

Federal prosecutors, sores that Guzman, who was extradited to the U. S early last year after a number of escapes from captivity in Mexico and Sinaloa cartel cohorts still pose a great danger to anyone who testifies or works against him have taken extraordinary lengths to protect cooperating witnesses, and keep track of the names of all members of the jury anonymously.

Lichtman dismissed such opinions, and denied has no bearing on the matter until now. “Members of the jury the jury members are, I don’t need to know their names,” he said.

FILE – In this Jan. 8, 2016, file, image released by Mexico’s federal government, Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, for his prison mug shot with the inmate number 3870 at the Altiplano maximum security federal prison in Almoloya, Mexico. Emma Coronel, the common-law wife of Guzman said on Monday, Feb. 29. 2016, that his health problems have gotten “much worse”, because the guards in a maximum security prison to rouse him for the head counts disturb his sleep. (Mexico’s federal government via AP)

The trial is expected to be more than four months. The accused drug kingpin, is charged with a litany of offensives around the drug trade and the U. S government seeks the forfeiture of $14 billion in alleged drug profits.

“I am willing to fight for everyone. I am willing to take risks on cases, I am willing to represent unpopular people. I’m willing to attack the government, I am not afraid,” Lichtman bragged.

And despite a long legacy of siding with colorful characters, steeped in controversy, Lichtman said that he does not care about the public perception that comes with advocating the will of Guzman, which many experts and analysts vow has led to the direct and indirect killing of thousands of people.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks about this case other than the 12 jury members. I don’t worry about what friends think. I don’t worry about what family thinks, I don’t care what the people in the community to think,” Lichtman added. “This is what I do and if you don’t want to, you can drop dead.”

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