WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Record numbers of criminal cases are tried in Florida’s Southern District every year, where attorneys ready to join a blockbuster fight should be easy to come by, former prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys say.
But Carlos De Oliveira, the latest defendant charged alongside Donald Trump in the alleged mishandling of classified government documents, has yet to secure a lawyer who can practice in the state, delaying his plea in a pattern some say is playing into Trump’s attempt to draw out the case. Attorneys for Trump have argued that the trial should take place much later than the May date set by the judge, citing the scope of the indictment and Trump’s status as a presidential candidate.
Delaying the trial could have significant political implications for Trump, who is running to return to the White House. Trump will face primary voters in May and, if he wins the Republican nomination, general election voters in November 2024, and the contents and outcome of a trial could weigh heavily on voters.
That De Oliveira, 56, of Palm Beach Gardens, had obtained counsel in Washington but no one to represent him in Florida was “comical” and “almost funny,” said Dick Gregorie, a 40-year veteran of Florida’s Southern District known for his prosecutions of the late Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and leaders of the Medellin and Cali drug cartels.
“I think that’s comical,” Gregorie said. “Here’s a guy from Palm Beach and he can find a lawyer in Washington, D.C., but in the busiest criminal district in the country, in the Southern District of Florida, he’s not able to find a lawyer? It’s almost funny.”
Appearing before a federal judge in Miami last week, De Oliveira, wearing a navy suit and glasses and without a local attorney, was unable to enter a plea.
It was a reprise of the two delays that led Walt Nauta, Trump’s personal aide who is also indicted in the classified documents case, to postpone entering his not guilty plea.
The district has no shortage of legal firepower, said Philip Reizenstein, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor.
“We’re very active as defense attorneys,” Reizenstein said. “We don’t just roll over and plead guilty.”
Mark Schnapp, a veteran federal prosecutor who led the criminal division at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, said, “I don’t know what’s taking so long.” Schnapp said De Oliveira “had to know” he would be charged ahead of time.
Typically the government will contact targets to let them know they’re going to be charged and offer them opportunities to cooperate, former prosecutors said.
A source familiar with the matter said De Oliveira’s legal team was informed ahead of time that the government intended to seek an indictment. The source said the defense was offered a chance to explain why he should not face charges.
But even after the charges were announced in a superseding indictment and De Oliveira made his first court appearance, his defense team was still working to lock down local counsel.
“This is a delay tactic,” said Dave Aronberg, the state attorney in Palm Beach County. “I’ll walk outside in a couple of minutes. I’m going to trip over at least three lawyers who are admitted into the Southern District of Florida. You’ve got to watch your step.”
Source: NBC News