05/23/11— The trial of Benjamín Arellano Félix began this morning in a San Diego courthouse after Mexico extradited him last month on charges of murder, money laundering, and drug trafficking, among others. The first day of the hearings brought with it the dismissal of Arellano Félix’s chosen lawyer, Jan Ronis, by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, the presiding judge in the case, who said that Ronis has an “irreconcilable legal conflict.” As the Union Tribune explains, “a former client of his [Ronis] will be a key witness in the case against the alleged Tijuana trafficker,” therefore suggesting possible ties to the cartel he is defending. Judge Burns expressed concern that allowing Ronis to continue as Arellano Félix’s lawyer would disrupt the trial and drag it on longer than expected.
In response to his dismissal, Jan Ronis said that this ruling would deny Benjamín Arellano Félix the right to choose his own lawyer. Additionally, it would be difficult to find another lawyer who would be able to defend Arellano Félix as well as he could have granted the amount of information he knew about his client. He argued that it appeared that the courts were “stacking the deck against him.”
Attorney Douglas C. Brown will now be representing Benjamín Arellano Félix in the case, which has been postponed until July 25. It is a high profile trial considering Arellano Félix’s former king pin status in the Arellano Félix Cartel, which he and his brother Ramon controlled for years. “It is an important symbolic development and it is an important, potentially, intelligence advantage for U.S. law enforcement,” stated David Shirk, Directory of the Trans-Border Institute, with regard to the arrest, extradition, and trial. However, he continued by recognizing the reality that this “is not a game changer.” For more information on Arellano Félix’s initial arrest and extradition, read here.