Thursday, February 26, 2009

Disgusting Spectacle in a Court of Law

A week ago, the City of Corpus Christi was treated to a disgusting spectacle when, during the punishment phase of a "bifurcated" criminal trial, the defense called as "character" witnesses two members of the Catholic clergy, a priest and a bishop. This is probably unprecedented locally. Evidence was adduced that through various means, including apparent (and illegal) fee-splitting, the defendant, Mauricio Celis, amassed millions. He is accused in related charges of money laundering: it's alleged he moved six-figure amounts south of the border. He accumulated so many dollars, in fact, that almost immediately after his release on bail for a plethora of felony counts, he began to spread money around quite liberally to various charities, including the priest's church. He even called press conferences to show local TV audiences just what a generous, altruistic man he can be.

Then came the first trial. He was convicted of 14 our of 22 counts of holding himself out as a lawyer without having a valid Texas license to practice law. After it had convincted Celis, the same jury decided his punishment. Character witnesses testified. Naturally, the prosecution, led by the able D.A., Carlos Valdez, painted a fairly devastating, gloomily negative portrait of the defendant: flashing a phoney sheriff's badge whenever he got into trouble; chasing a nude woman out of his house, down the street, and into a convenience store, and -- well, it went on and on. A woman he supposedly solicited through tearful testimony told how Celis had approached her to "sign her up." A loved one had died under negligent circumstances, and there was Celis, explaining to the woman that he didn't care if the deceased was a good person or a bad one; everyone needs a lawyer. The question of Celis having a valid law license aside, he certainly had no license in tact, etiquette, or common courtesy.

Bearing in mind that Corpus Christi is mostly Hispanic and overwhelmingly Catholic, it is interesting that the first letter to the editor concerning the trial was sent by one M. D. Rodriguez. It is so dead on (and so succinct) I quote in full:

Bishop testifies

"Testimony during the sentencing phase of the Mauricio Celis trial raises a number of questions involving the clergy and their participation in a criminal trial.
Bishop Edmund Carmody and Msgr. Mlchael Herras testified to Mr. Celis’ gener­osity to the church and their members at a trial that had just proven that it was done with ill-gotten gains. Does the leadership of the Catholic church not have a responsibility to turn away “dirty money,” or do they consider the funds “cleansed’ by the church?

"Can murderers and drug dealers expect the same treat­ment from the church leaders so long as they give a hefty portion of their “loot” to the church? Did the bishop hear the testimony of Mr. Celis chasing a naked woman to Circle K at four in the morning and that Mr. Celis spent more time at a local strip club than he spent at church?"

Now, I do not know who M. D. Rodriguez is. As the late comedian Lord Buckley was wont to say, "I don't know him from Frommer." (One supposes he was referencing a very popular author of travel guides during Buckley's years, the 50s and 60s.) In any case, Mr. Rodriguez hit the nail on the proverbial head. It says a lot about a religion that has such a skewed sense of right and wrong. Perhaps it should add Mammon to the Holy Trinity. One can imagine where that money is going: east.

As one local attorney put it to a blogger at

“I feel the Bishop’s motives were more selfish. It left a bitter taste in the courthouse that ‘the rich’ should be tried via a different standard if they engage in ‘humanitarian and generous gestures.’ I also presuppose that Celis had some of his attorney friends (sizeable contributor to the ‘collection basket’ that called the Bishop to do some trouble-shooting. The Bishop preached to a jury of mostly Catholic jury members – adding to the flurry of sudden outrage in many a circle of the Hispanic community in the area that Celis had become a target of convenience during the last major political campaign… both then-State Representative Juan Garcia and State Representative Abel Herrero were made targets by Republicans in that they were associated with Celis’ hefty contributions.”

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