The federal judge overseeing the trial of alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has banned two attorneys who are part of his team from using cell phones because of alleged phone use by the defendant's wife inside the courtroom.
US District Judge Brian Cogan of the Eastern District of New York said that the alleged conduct of attorneys Mariel Colon Miro and Michael Lambert demonstrates "a flagrant disregard of the court's rules" and a "grave misunderstanding" of the need for security and order.
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Only lawyers are allowed cell phones in the courtroom. The ban from using cell phones inside the court is for one year.
Prosecutors had only asked that attorney Colon be sanctioned, but Cogan's order added Lambert, whose firm Colon works for.
"I was not the target of their motion, and yet have somehow become collateral damage," Lambert said.
Prosecutors alleged that Guzman's wife, Emma Coronel, was seen using a cell phone in the courthouse on November 20. She told a security officer who approached her that "her attorney gave the cell phone to her," according to the judge's order.
The order states that the US Marshals Service told the court that Coronel was seen bringing four cell phones into the courtroom that she was "actively using during trial proceedings."
Colon and Lambert are not part of the trial team, but work as part of Guzman's defense.
Colon meets with Guzman regularly, sometimes for up to eight hours a day, to help translate the government's evidence when it is provided to the defense team, Lambert said.
Colon told CNN she would not comment on the matter.
Lambert told CNN he was surprised to receive sanctions, and called the decision an "unjust attack on my integrity."
He said that the day he was asked about Coronel's cell phone use, he told US Marshals that his phone "never left my sight, that I personally never left Ms. Coronel alone with my phone" and that it was used only to translate. He also claims that a phone seen in security footage of Coronel alone was not his.
Defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo said he had no comment, while attorney Jeffrey Lichtman released a statement to CNN.
"While the decision doesn't relate to any of the trial attorneys on Mr. Guzman's team, we nevertheless appreciate Judge Cogan's patience and sensitivity in his handling of this matter," the defense attorney said.
In the Thursday's ruling, Cogan wrote that Colon told him she gave Lambert's phone to Guzman's wife to use Google Translate.
Defense attorneys have filed affidavits saying no member of their team has violated the special administrative measures imposed by the court. The measures prohibit Guzman from communicating with his wife, either in person or by telephone, and prohibit his attorneys from passing messages from third parties to Guzman, or from Guzman to third parties.
Guzman, 61, has pleaded not guilty to charges of international drug trafficking and conspiracy to murder rivals.
His trial has unprecedented security measures, including armed escorts for the anonymous and partly sequestered jurors.