A taxpayer-funded lawyer assigned to defend two illegal aliens facing criminal charges failed to appear in court on behalf of his clients.
As part of Operation Lone Star—Texas’ border security push—the Lubbock Private Defenders Office has been tasked with defending illegal aliens in criminal cases by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.
According to Gov. Greg Abbott, the purpose of OLS is to enforce all applicable federal and state laws to prevent the criminal activity along the border, including criminal trespassing, smuggling, and human trafficking. Additionally, OLS will assist Texas counties in their efforts to address those criminal activities.
After two men were arrested for criminal trespassing in Kinney County, they were assigned a state-funded lawyer by LPDO to represent them in their cases.
However, court records from Kinney County show a shocking level of incompetence from the LPDO-appointed lawyer.
Justin Wolbert, who was assigned to defend the two illegal aliens, failed to inform his clients of a plea deal offered by Kinney County and then failed to show up for court.
Amrutha Jindal, the chief defender of the Operation Lone Star program for LPDO, then attempted to remove the lawyer from the case without the judge’s consent.
The court transcripts from an emergency conference on the issue have Jindal stating the following in regards to Wolbert:
It seemed very obvious that Mr. Wolbert was not prepared. … Mr. Wolbert had not conveyed plea offers to these two individuals and that he had not reviewed discovery in these two individuals’ cases.
According to Judge Todd Blomerth, who presided over the emergency conference, there was too much confusion in regards to Wolbert’s handling of the case and subsequent disappearance to address the issue of new counsel during the emergency meeting.
Both Jindal and the court made multiple attempts to contact Wolbert, who did not show up for the virtual conference.
“I’m trying to connect the dots. He [Wolbert] is the attorney of record. He is a private lawyer. He has not filed a motion to withdraw. He has not filed a motion for continuance,” said Blomerth. “Please, can you [Jindal] connect the dots for me as to how any rules that you may have about retaining people to represent indigent trumps the State rules as it relates to a trial setting where he is the attorney of record?”
Jindal argued that under a Texas Supreme Court order, her office has the power to reassign counsel for illegal aliens without following the traditional process laid out in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that requires a judge to approve such reassignments to protect the interests of the accused.
The prosecutors, who serve as representatives of the State, disagreed with this interpretation.
Indeed, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 26.04, “only the judges of the county courts, statutory county courts, and district courts trying criminal cases in the county, or the judges’ designee, [have the authority] to appoint counsel for indigent defendants in the county.”
Although the Supreme Court order does indicate LPDO can appoint counsel, it is ambiguous as to whether they have the power to remove or substitute counsel without court approval.
However, Judge Blomerth refused to address that issue with so many others outstanding—namely, the lack of Wolbert’s presence in court.
“Quite frankly, I’m a little uncomfortable,” said Blomerth. “The bottom line is, this lawyer is not around, and I don’t know where the heck he is. And he’s the attorney of record, ma’am. … He’s the attorney of record under the Code of Criminal Procedure, and I haven’t heard a darn thing yet that tells me that your operating (audio distortion) trump what I’ve got to do.”
The two illegal aliens were set to appear for trial by jury two days after this emergency conference. However, due to Wolbert’s disappearance and the inability to contact him, the trial was canceled.
In a hearing held a few days later, Judge Blomerth agreed to approve new counsel for the two illegal aliens after LPDO filed the appropriate motions. Additionally, since the two illegal aliens had indicated a desire to accept the plea deal from the state, Blomerth set a date for a plea to be entered.
Texas Scorecard has documented previous attempts by LPDO’s former chief defender to sabotage the judicial works of OLS.