The prosecutor in the contempt trial of two, prominent El Paso defense attorneys announced today that Judge Steve Smith will testify as a rebuttal witness in the proceedings he initiated.
Visiting Judge Smith, of the College Station area, filed the contempt complaint against attorneys Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds alleging they were confrontational, disrespectful and rude during a trial he presided over in El Paso.
That trial involved El Paso District Judge Regina Arditti, who was found not guilty of felony charges, including nepotism and official misconduct. Judge Arditti lost her post in a runoff election in late July.
The news that Judge Smith will appear as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution raised eyebrows, but did little to quell the concerns regarding the validity of the contempt complaint filed against attorneys Caballero and Leeds.
The contempt complaint charges Caballero and Leeds with disrespectful behavior towards Judge Smith and the jury in the Arditti trial. Judge Smith alleges in the complaint that the attorneys used a disrespectful tone of voice when addressing the judge, yelled at the judge, made snide remarks in open court and were rude to potential jurors during the selection process.
Legal experts, during testimony Wednesday, found that the complaint allegations did not violate state rules and guidelines governing the behavior of attorneys and the legal system as a whole.
District Attorney Henry Garza, of Bell County, stated he does not speak to media or others about pending cases shortly before taking a telephone call from Judge Smith. DA Garza, who rested his case on Tuesday, presented two witnesses and filed the official trial transcripts into the record as part of his prosecution.
It is unclear what Judge Smith will address, but when he takes the stand, he will have to face the attorneys who he has accused of contempt.
“He is a liar. He is a coward, and I’m surprised,” said attorney Leeds during a break in the trial Thursday. “This only shows how vindictive he is, that he would fly out to El Paso to come and try to get us.”
“He’s going to testify that we were the worst attorneys he’s ever come across, and our witnesses will continue saying he is the worst judge they have every come across,” he said.
Nearly all of the 82 witnesses attorneys Caballero and Leeds have called to speak on their behalf have described Judge Smith during testimony as abusive, holding a grudge and disrespectful. The witness list includes sitting judges, decorated veterans, fellow attorneys, religious leaders, state politicians and citizens.
“We have turmoil in our community because of a judge who may have held a grudge,” said Fernando Chacon, an El Paso attorney described as a champion for Chicano issues.
“This is having a chilling effect on our legal system and our community because of a judge who wants to quiet these exemplary examples of First Amendment voices (Leeds and Caballero).”
All of the witnesses who were present at the Judge Arditti trial have been at a loss to explain why Judge Smith would have filed the contempt complaint against the attorneys. They believe Judge Smith was the one obstructing the trial and the one who was disrespectful not only to the attorneys, but the El Paso community.
Civil Rights attorney Edward Hernandez, an El Paso garment worker who graduated from the Yale school of law, said, “I was concerned with what the judge had said in his email. But I am more concerned with what is happening to Theresa (Caballero) and Stuart (Leeds). They are the best trial team in El Paso, bar none.”
Judge Smith sent an email to Leeds and Caballero in which he stated that court would begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. Many, including the attorneys Caballero and Leeds, took that as a racist comment, referring to Mexican-Americans as lazy and unable to be on time..
“It bothers me that the rule of law has been violated,” said Salvador Perez Gomez, a 30-year Navy veteran.
“One individual flies into town and does not like Ms. Caballero and Mr. Leeds, so he decides to condemn them. It’s not right that the voice of one individual is all you need. It’s abusive.”
Attorneys Caballero and Leeds are expected to call five more witnesses Friday and then DA Garza is expected to call Judge Smith to the witness stand.
“I think Judge Smith is a coward,” attorney Caballero said when asked about Judge Smith taking the witness stand. “He creates turmoil and that’s all.”