Killing the lawyers of Juarez

Washington Post:

It is common for lawyers everywhere to cover their office walls with diplomas. The Mexican criminal defense attorney Salvador Urbina is making a different statement. His walls are hung with swords -- a hundred sabers, daggers, cutlasses and Japanese katanas, the blades kept sharp.

The weapons are real, but Urbina no longer sleeps in the city where he practices law. It is far too dangerous. He now spends his nights across the border in a bland suburb of El Paso and commutes to the deadliest city in Mexico each morning. After he began receiving death threats, Urbina got his family out. He will not discuss the specifics of the threats.

"But I know that they can come for me at my office at any time," Urbina said quietly. "They can come and get me just like they got the Escobedos."


"This is nothing like before. I don't even take narco cases. Not anymore. They are very hard. I have family, and the risk is that if the client doesn't feel satisfied and doesn't think you're doing a good job, what do you do? I don't think anybody is taking these cases these days," said criminal defense lawyer Sergio Alonso Cisneros, who apologized for seeming nervous during a brief interview. He explained, "My wife just called to tell me not to come home, because the army and police have surrounded our block because our neighbor was just shot."

Lawyers in Ciudad Juarez describe a chaotic legal landscape in which they are threatened by their clients, opposed by biased judges and harassed by the Mexican military, which has sent 2,500 troops to the city and has taken over law enforcement duties here, mostly by running heavily armored patrols and setting up roadblocks, but also by pursuing its own investigations, interrogations and detentions.


There are about 2,000 lawyers in Ciudad Juarez, but only about 200 work in the criminal courts, and an even smaller number accept defendants charged with violent crime or drug dealing. Those defense lawyers have taken the drastic step of formally requesting that the state dispatch police officers to guard their offices and more vigorously investigate the threats against them. Some lawyers are begging the state police to give them "panic buttons" to call for immediate help in case of attack.

Ciudad Juarez is notorious. The investigative magazine Proceso last week featured Juarez on its cover under the headline: "City of Terror." More than 1,600 people were killed here last year. According to El Diario, which tracks the carnage, 133 people were killed in the city last month.


Juarez is more dangerous than Baghdad now. There may be some lawyers who deserve to die, but that seems like a self defeating proposition for the criminals. Famed criminal defense lawyer Percy Foreman was once threatened by a client he had gotten a acquittal for who said, "I have already killed on old man." Foreman responded, "Well, if you kill me, you want have anyone to get you off next time."

Unfortunately the criminal justice system in Juarez is in such sad shape that it is probably cheaper to buy your way out of jail or hire a hit squad to break you out.

Mexico needs more troops on the street and needs to learn counterinsurgency operations.


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