A group of defense attorneys is asking a federal judge to issue a restraining order against Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos.
The four attorneys are accusing Villalobos of placing them and six others a blacklist where their clients can TMt get probation or plea bargains.
Moises Salas, Nat Perez, Angela Nix and Star Jones filed their request before U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen late Monday.
Court records show the saga began when the Cameron County Criminal Defense Attorney TMs Association and four attorneys filed a legal petition in the 444th state District Court last week.
The group asked to for the county to given them an equal-sized budget as prosecutors and to keep Villalobos from being the only person to represent the county TMs indigent defense program before commissioner TMs court.
Salas said they believe Villalobos interpreted the move as siding with the commissioner TMs court in an ongoing legal dispute over who represents the county in civil matters.
"In short order, the very next day, he had a meeting and we were blackballed by his entire office, Salas said. We were told specifically that none of our clients would be offered plea bargains of any kind|no probation for any of our clients|in complete disregard for the facts, evidence or circumstances of their case. They are blackballed by their association with us as their attorneys."
Salas claims they will prove the following defense attorneys were blacklisted:
- Moises Salas
- Ed Stapleton
- Nat Perez
- Angela Nix
- Star Jones
- Michael Young
- Larry Warner
- Rogelio Ortiz
- Santiago Galarza
- Hector Garza
All ten attorneys work as public defenders, representing dozens to hundreds of clients who cannot afford their own lawyer.
"Myself and all the other attorneys on that list..ethically|according to the rules of professional conduct, we're bound to advise a prospective client who might walk into our door that we will not be able to get them a plea bargain or probation or any leniency whatsoever and of course, you can imagine what their response will be, Salas said.
The group of defense attorneys claim they were personally informed of the blacklist.
In one incident, a top-ranking official with the district attorney TMs office is alleged to have insulted Salas and others with profanity inside the Cameron County Courthouse.
Salas said the blacklist violates the civil rights of their clients and would put them out of business.
Court records show that no hearing has been set as of Tuesday evening, but Salas said they want Judge Hanen to intervene.
"We're asking the court to appoint an independent person, an independent prosecutor who's not a part or have any connection to this administration to prosecute our cases so that our clients will be afforded a fair prosecution, a fair justice instead of bias and prejudice and selective prosecution, Salas said.
Villalobos released the following statement on Wednesday:
The lawsuit filed against our office by a few select criminal defense attorneys is worthless. Our position has not changed in the past five years; we will not be intimidated by threats, exaggerations, or untruths. The ability to interact with our office in a non-adversarial setting, which is what occurs when defense attorneys are invited into our office for discussions, will be limited to those who are not parties to a lawsuit against us. To ensure that there are no miscommunications, unnecessary delays or tense meetings, it is best that litigants conduct business in the manner that is acceptable and recommended"in the Courtroom. Every defense attorney can (and many do) file the appropriate motions, get the appropriate rulings, and obtain the necessary information for their cases in the courtroom. We do not expect the county civil department to represent us. Our office will be handling the litigation.