Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Accused trial lawyer wants to represent himself at trial

By: Guillermo Contreras

San Antonio Express News

December 16, 2015

Nationally recognized trial lawyer Mikal Watts of San Antonio is asking a judge to let him represent himself in his fraud case.

Watts is charged in Mississippi with fraud, identity theft and conspiracy over allegedly fraudulent claims made in litigation against oil giant BP over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He vehemently denies the charges.

Watts made the unusual request to represent himself in a motion Wednesday. It also asks that his current criminal defense lawyer, Robert McDuff, serve as his “stand-by counsel.”

Earlier this week, Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. denied Watts’ request for a hybrid defense that would have allowed Watts to serve as a lawyer together with McDuff. Prosecutors argued that it might confuse the jury.

“No confusion of the jury will occur,” the new motion states. “Mikal Watts respectfully avails himself of his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself.”

McDuff is one of the most respected criminal defense lawyers in the South, but Watts has had years of experience arguing before juries in civil trials, winning millions of dollars representing personal-injury clients against corporate giants like Ford Motor Co. and pharmaceutical firms.

He has poured some of that money, also in the millions, into the campaigns of Democrats in local, state and national races, and even hosted President Barack Obama at a fundraiser at his home in the Dominion in 2012.

“The old saying is, ‘The man who represents himself has a fool for a client,’” said former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, who practiced law for 40 years and was a judge for 10. “It’s normally true, by the way. Would I do it myself? No, I would hire a lawyer.”

“There is a ‘however,’ though,” he added. “When you talk about this particular lawyer, he’s one of the best lawyers in America. If there ever is going to be an exception to the rule, Mikal Watts is it.”

But Hardberger and others agree it’s a high-risk maneuver.

Longtime San Antonio criminal defense lawyer Alan Brown hired his own defense team to represent him when he was charged by the federal government with tax fraud. Brown, who beat the charges, said he consulted plenty with his attorneys, Mike McCrum and the late Jimmy Parks Jr., but saw it was important to let them do the work as they wore down the star witness, one of Brown’s former secretaries.

Criminal law and civil law are very different, like playing football and baseball, Brown said, and “not everyone can do both.”

“There’s difficulties I’m not sure he’s appreciating,” Brown said of Watts. “It’s one thing if someone else comes in and says, ‘You’re a good guy.’ But if you represent yourself and tell them, ‘I’m a good guy,’ it sounds like you’re showing off. Your credibility is at stake.”

 

 

Tags:

Comments are closed.