Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm not a lawyer but I play one on TV

You go Judge Luitjen!

Man accused of posing as lawyer has list of charges reduced by one
By John MacCormack: jmaccormack@express-news.net

CORPUS CHRISTI — A charge of aggravated perjury against Mauricio Celis was thrown out here Monday shortly after he was arraigned on multiple new charges of impersonating a lawyer and money laundering.

It was the only bit of good news lately for Celis, the owner of the now-defunct law firm CGT Law Group International and a prominent political player who is fighting a blizzard of criminal and civil suits.

Celis had been charged with lying under oath after he testified in May in Zapata County that he is a lawyer in Mexico. The state claims this is false, and that Celis is not licensed to practice law anywhere.

Visiting Judge Mark Luitjen tossed the perjury charge after deciding that the alleged untrue statements were never made or repeated by Celis in Nueces County.

“What's wrong with indicting him where it happened?” Luitjen asked Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez, who said later the perjury issue would be referred to prosecutors in Zapata County.

As he has since last fall when his troubles began, Celis declined to comment, but appeared to be in good spirits, joking with the press. After the hearing ended, his lawyer, Tony Canales, blasted Valdez.

“This is evidence that Mr. Valdez abused the grand jury system by bringing a case that had nothing to do with Nueces County,” Canales said. “This grand jury would indict on anything Mr. Valdez would bring before it.”

Valdez is prosecuting the case with the assistance of lawyers from the attorney general's office, and Canales also criticized Valdez for enlisting the help.
Valdez took a calmer approach to the day's developments.
“It's just the normal process of getting ready for trial,” he said.

Celis was first indicted in November on charges of impersonating a lawyer, impersonating a peace officer, theft from a client and aggravated perjury. On Friday, he was indicted on 16 more counts, of impersonating a lawyer and money laundering.

The latter charge, a first-degree felony, stems from his alleged receipt of money derived from his activities representing himself as a lawyer. It is a first-degree felony, punishable by five to 99 years.

Valdez said he will file a motion consolidating the money laundering charge with those of impersonating a lawyer, and that these will be tried together.

After being arraigned Monday on the new charges, Celis, who was born in Mexico, was ordered to surrender his Mexican passport. He had earlier given up his American passport.
Luitjen said he would probably set a trial date when the parties next confer in about a month.