Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman walked into federal court in Brooklyn Monday and immediately waved to his wife and twin daughters, who were sitting in the second row, then sat as a judge refused to guarantee the government wouldn't at some point seize any fees private lawyers would receive for legal services.
The Mexican drug lord's lawyers, including noted criminal defense attorney Jeff Lichtman, who successfully defended the son of mob scion John Gotti, had sought assurances that if they came into the case, the government wouldn't later seize their fees as part of the $14 billion alleged drug money it wants to collect from Guzman.
The private lawyers said they want to take the case off the hands of public defenders, that they want to lift the burden from taxpayers' shoulders, but they need to be compensated.
They didn't get any promises.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told them at Monday's hearing that they would have to take that risk if they wanted to represent him.
Afterward, the lawyers told reporters that they still want to find a way to represent Guzman. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of running a drug trafficking cartel that laundered billions of dollars and oversaw murders and kidnappings.
Lichtman also said after court that Guzman would be able to spend time with his family Thursday for the first time in seven months. Guzman frequently turned to stare at his family throughout his 15-minute hearing Monday. He appeared emotional at times.
Guzman is set to go on trial in New York next year. Cogan refused to flex the trial start date at Monday's hearing. He told the private lawyers if they wanted to take the risk in defending Guzman to "do it soon," adding "I am not going to put the April trial date in jeopardy because you complain that you didn't have enough time to prepare."
Lichtman has yet to file a "notice of appearance" officially saying he is Guzman's new lawyer, though Guzman has retained him.