(Not) of Counsel

In the latest chapter of Snitch Vs. Snitch, two of the city's top defense lawyers are prevented from representing a client

In all, Arroyo made four recorded calls from Brazil, reaching Schaffer, who had represented Arroyo several years earlier on drug charges, on one occasion. As Stabe and Norman electronically eavesdropped, Schaffer asked Arroyo how he'd been doing and told him that Cogdell wanted to talk with him. Schaffer then transferred Arroyo's call to Cogdell's law firm, but Cogdell was not in his office. Norman told the judge that the brief exchange between Arroyo and Schaffer revealed nothing sinister; nonetheless, he and Stabe opted not to contact the defense lawyers about Arroyo's fear of being set up.

According to Norman, when Arroyo arrived in Houston two months later to testify against De La Garza, the informant again expressed concern that Cogdell and Schaffer were trying to frame him. At that point, Norman claimed, he and Stabe advised Arroyo not to discuss the upcoming trial with anyone. But Norman testified that he and Stabe also provided Arroyo with two blank cassette tapes and a hand-held recorder adapted to tape telephone conversations --just in case the informant did decide to contact the attorneys. Later that week, Arroyo met with Cogdell and Schaffer at Houston's.

Norman testified that he didn't know if Arroyo recorded the meeting at Houston's, but he insisted that neither he nor Stabe suggested their witness solicit money from the lawyers. That idea, he said, was entirely Arroyo's.

Stabe, meanwhile, argued to Rosenthal that the government could not completely control Arroyo and should not be penalized for his conduct, and he asked the judge to remove Cogdell and Schaffer as De La Garza's lawyers.

"They argued that if we had just kept our mouths shut, we could have proceeded to trial, and the bribery solicitation would have never become an issue," says Schaffer. "So in the opinion of the government, we created our own problem by reporting the crime. Of course, if we hadn't, we would have been subjecting ourselves to prosecution and disbarment."

Even before Arroyo's bribery solicitation, Stabe was trying to prevent Schaffer from representing De La Garza.

Less than a week before De La Garza was to go to trial and three days before Arroyo was arrested, Stabe filed a motion to disqualify Schaffer on the grounds that the lawyer had represented Arroyo on drug charges in the mid-'80s. Stabe insisted in court last month that he submitted his motion at that advanced date because he only learned in late July that Schaffer was defending De La Garza. That assertion was contradicted by Norman, whose testimony indicated that both he and Stabe knew of Schaffer's involvement in the case as early as May.

In a brief filed with Rosenthal on behalf of Schaffer and Cogdell, two associations of criminal lawyers maintained that Stabe and Norman should be held accountable for the actions of their witness, since they encouraged Arroyo to call the lawyers and provided him with recording equipment.

"Schaffer and Cogdell did nothing wrong," says attorney Stanley Schneider, who helped write the brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The only thing they did was meet with a witness in a criminal case -- which they have an ethical duty to do. This [practice by the government] shouldn't be just the concern of attorneys. This sort of government intrusion should be a concern to everyone."

David Bires, who shares office space with Schaffer, now represents De La Garza, whose trial has been reset for March 2. Bires will undoubtedly try to bring Arroyo's bribery solicitation to the attention of the jury; Rosenthal has indicated that she will wait to rule on whether that evidence can be introduced at the trial. If Rosenthal permits, Bires will probably argue that the case against De La Garza was manufactured by Arroyo at the behest of agent Norman.

While working as an informant for Norman in the early 1980s, De La Garza maintained that the agent had two other informants killed in order to steal money from them. De La Garza's allegations were even cited in a 1986 opinion by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals when it overturned Arroyo's 1985 conviction on drug-smuggling charges.

Norman, who is now the supervisor of the DEA office in Sacramento, was never charged in the deaths of the informants, who are still missing. For that matter, says Schaffer, it doesn't appear that De La Garza's accusations against Norman were even checked out. Before being replaced as De La Garza's attorney, Schaffer says, he asked both the DEA and the FBI for their files on the Norman investigation but was told nothing of the sort exists.

"Either they were lying or they just didn't give a shit," says Schaffer. "It's just amazing that an agent can be accused of murdering someone and stealing their money and the agency just says, 'So what? It's just another action of a bad child.'

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets