R. Allen Stanford has new criminal-defense attorneys — again. The issue was settled at a brief hearing this morning. Two Houston attorneys, Christopher Bebel and Stephen Cochell, had filed a notice Oct. 26 that they were representing Stanford in his criminal case, and, at the hearing, Houston attorney Michael Stanley also sought to represent Stanford. However, Senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner of Houston appointed Houston criminal-defense lawyers Robert A. Scardino Jr. and Ali R. Fazel to defend Stanford from criminal charges. They will be paid with funding through the Criminal Justice Act, because Stanford is indigent. Hittner noted that, as trial judge, he has “sole prerogative and authority” to appoint attorneys for Stanford pursuant to the CJA. Hittner asked Gregg Costa, the assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas prosecuting the case, his opinion about which lawyers to appoint, and Costa said it was the court’s choice. Hittner’s order came after Robert S. Bennett of Bennett Nguyen Joint Venture, Stanford’s criminal-defense attorney since April, withdrew his motion seeking CJA funding to represent Stanford. Hittner told Bennett he may withdraw from the case once Bennett provides his files to Stanford’s new attorney. Another attorney for Stanford, Michael Essmyer of Essmyer, Tritico & Rainey is also out of the case; Hittner vacated his previous order denying Essmyer’s request to withdraw from representing Stanford. Hittner told Bennett and Essmyer that they remain subject to the gag order in the case, along with their staff and anyone else who worked with them on the Stanford defense and that they are to have no further contact with Stanford. Stanford goes to trial Jan. 24, 2011. Stanford has pleaded not guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges related to an alleged conspiracy to defraud investors who bought about $7 billion in certificates of deposit sold through Stanford International Bank Ltd. Stanford needs court-appointed lawyers because U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas issued an order that allows insurance companies holding Stanford Financial Group officers-and-directors policies to deny coverage for Stanford and two other executives.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
UPDATE: Read the order Hittner issued Oct. 28 here.