An attorney is the key witness in a trial against the client he was hired to defend, in what is expected to be a precedent setting case in San Jose. Criminal defense attorney Andy Tursi confidentially told the judge presiding over the trial he was working on that his client, Ernesto Mirabal, assaulted him and threatened his family during a private meeting. Mirabal is now being charged with threatening his defense attorney, but Tursi is backtracking on his initial story.
According to Mercury News, during the trial in which Tursi was defending Mirabal, an encounter between the two turned ugly. While in a private meeting with Santa Clara Supreme Court Judge Rise Jones Pichon, Tursi claimed that Mirabal grabbed his arm, slammed his head into the wall of a jail cell, and threatened his family. Tursi then showed the judge the bruises on his arm, and asked to be removed from the case. After showing Pichon the bruises on his arm, he reportedly said, “I just can’t be afraid for my safety every moment I’m in the room with this person.”
During the private meeting, Tursi expressed his unwillingness to discuss the matter in front of district attorneys or in open court because he did not want to bring new charges against his client. Based on what Tursi told him, Pichon declared a mistrial. The prosecutors, who considered the events an obstruction of justice, filed new criminal-threat charges against Mirabal.
Since the new charges were brought to trial, Tursi has been backtracking on his story. During a preliminary hearing, he told a jury that “Seventy percent of my clients want to strangle me at one time or another.” Mirabal has claimed that the incident did not occur, and that Tursi fabricated his story as a way to get off the trial.
Mirabal’s original charges stem from an incident in which he attempted to pimp out a 13 year-old runaway. During the trial for those charges, he allegedly hired a member of a gang to tamper with one of the witnesses, which sparked new charges at which point Tursi was appointed to defend him. He faces 12 years in prison solely for the charge of threatening Tursi, and decades more for his other charges.
Tursi is obviously not eager to proceed with the trial in which he will be a primary witness. His refusal to stand up to his initial accusations may hurt his reputation as an attorney, but more worryingly, defense attorneys all over the country are worried about the precedent that this case may set. If Mirabal is not convicted of the new criminal-threatening charges, it could place court-appointed defenders at risk. If a client is unhappy with their defender, he could simply threaten or attack the attorney in order to get a mistrial and have a new one appointed by the court.