R. Allen Stanford’s attorneys must defend him at a $7 billion investment fraud trial that will begin Jan. 23 in Houston federal court, said a U.S. judge who rejected the lawyers’ bid to quit.
Stanford’s court-appointed attorneys, Ali Fazel, Robert Scardino, John Parras and Ken McGuire, asked to exit his case in a motion filed on Jan. 11, less than two weeks before the start of jury selection. They claimed they hadn’t been given enough time or resources to prepare an adequate defense against what they describe as a complicated financial fraud case.
“The defense team’s primary reason for seeking such relief is based upon its self-proclamation that Stanford’s right to effective assistance of counsel will be impaired,” Hittner said in a two-page order that also rejected the lawyer’s bid for a three-month delay in starting the trial.
“The court notes that the defense team maintains this position despite the fact that two of its lawyers -- Scardino and Fazel -- have been appointed to this case since November 2010, and the other two lawyers -- Parras and McGuire -- have been appointed to this case since March 2011,” Hittner said.
Stanford, 61, has been imprisoned as a flight risk since he was indicted in June 2009 on charges of defrauding investors through allegedly bogus certificates of deposit at his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank Ltd. Stanford denies all wrongdoing.
Hittner said in a separate order late today that Stanford’s lawyers could argue yet another delay request, which they filed under seal this afternoon, at a pretrial hearing next week.
The lawyers seek “a continuance on the basis that a non-attorney member of the defense team will be unavailable to assist at the commencement of trial,” Hittner said in the ruling. He ordered the government and Stanford’s lawyers to continue “full trial preparation” in the meantime.
The former financier was declared indigent and given a taxpayer-financed defense because all of his assets were frozen by court order after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued him in February 2009.
Fazel and Scardino have complained about time and funding restrictions imposed on the defense team by Hittner and the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which approves trial budgets for court-appointed attorneys.
They said Stanford has had too little time since he was declared mentally competent on Dec. 22 to adequately review the thousands of documents necessary to assist in his defense. Stanford spent almost nine months in a prison rehabilitation program recovering from a head injury suffered during a 2009 prison attack and an addiction to anxiety drugs prescribed following the assault.
Fazel said in court filings that the defense team was also hampered by the yearend resignation of all its document-management and trial-preparation contractors over unpaid bills dating back to September. The contractors returned to work in early January after an appellate court granted them partial back pay and ordered them to continue working.
Lead prosecutor Gregg Costa opposed delaying the trial by more than a few weeks, citing efforts by Stanford’s defense team to get Stanford bail and to fight his competency declaration. Stanford’s attorneys have also filed multiple constitutional challenges in his case, none of which have succeeded.
“The defense obviously has devoted extraordinary resources to certain issues,” Costa said in a filing earlier today. “It is time for the defense to devote those resources to the trial.”
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the judge’s rulings today.
“We’re preparing for trial,” Fazel said in a telephone interview after Hittner denied him permission to quit. He declined to comment further, citing a gag order banning lawyers from publicly discussing the case.
The criminal case is U.S. v. Stanford, 09cr342, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston). The SEC case is Securities and Exchange Commission v. Stanford International Bank, 09cv298, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Dallas).