EL PASO, Texas - In an odd twist in the contempt of court trial of attorneys Stuart Leeds and Theresa Caballero, Leeds objected Wednesday to Caballero bringing up his family in the trial, and then Caballero started crying.
Leeds and Caballero face a combined 18 counts of contempt, each carrying the potential for up to six months in jail and a fine. The charges stem from the 2011 bribery trial of 448th District Court Judge Regina Arditti in which the law partners were able to get her acquitted.
The exchange Wednesday occurred when Caballero was direct examining Marta Esquival, a former courthouse employee. Leeds and Caballero, who are law partners, represented her in a wrongful termination case against the courthouse. She said the pair is "very professional."
Esquival, who is familiar with the Leeds family, said Leeds takes care of his 17-year-old autistic niece and is her sole provider.
When Caballero brought the niece up, Leeds objected saying "Objection. Leave my family out of this."
Caballero asked the judge to overrule the objection, and then, Caballero turned to Leeds and said, "Stuart, I know what I'm doing."
Caballero then started crying, turned her back to Esquival and asked her "If Stuart goes to jail, what happens to Libby? There will be no one to care for her right?"
"Yeah," Esquival said.
The prosecution requested a five-minute break that was granted, and Caballero left the courtroom, still crying.
After the trial resumed, the next witness called by Caballero was Robert Thomas, a courthouse court reporter.
"Wouldn't you agree there's been dishonest reporting in the press (on this case)?" Caballero asked Thomas.
The prosecution objected on the grounds of relevancy, and the judge sustained the objection.
Caballero then called Ben Mendoza to the stand and asked him if the El Paso Times coverage of the recall election was slanted and if the newspaper was biased.
Mendoza was sued by Mayor John Cook because of the recall petition Mendoza initiated. He was represented by Caballero and Leeds. Mendoza replied, yes to both questions.
"What reporter in particular?" Caballero asked Mendoza and he replied Marty Schladen.
"Is his reporting hateful?" Caballero asked Mendoza.
"It's that and then some," Mendoza said. "They're on a vindictive mission."
After asking Mendoza about the El Paso Times, Caballero then asked Mendoza about District Attorney Jaime Esparza.
"Is Mr. Esparza known for political prosecutions?" she asked.
Mendoza responded "if you're not one of his friends you run the risk of being indicted."
The prosecutor then objected on the grounds of relevancy.
"I'm trying to paint a picture that the D.A. is a very viscous, vindictive, mean person," Caballero said.
The judge then overruled the objection.
"Is he vindictive?" Caballero asked Mendoza.
"Yes, especially if you're not his friend," Mendoza said. "You are the only two attorneys in this county who will stand up to the district attorney."
All the witnesses who took the stand Wednesday were from a mixed array of backgrounds.
They included attorneys, a Fort Bliss soldier, a man accused of possessing child pornography and a tenant who lives in Leeds' garage apartment.
They were mostly character witnesses who had no independent knowledge of the Arditti bribery trial.
Nearly all of the witnesses were asked by Caballero to describe the pair of attorneys. The word most used was "zealous."
Defense witnesses testified Wednesday that El Paso needs attorneys like Caballero and Leeds, and that without them there would be no one to challenge the system.
Some of the witnesses called were individuals from cases Caballero and Leeds had defended in the past. Multiple defendants testified their legal fees were pro-bono.
Hector Torres, a man accused of possessing child pornography, retold the story of the day Caballero and Leeds came to his jail cell telling him they would take his case.
"I would describe them as effective," Torres said. "I never thought I'd end up with the two best lawyers in town."
Court reporter Robert Thomas, who worked the Arditti trial in 2011, testified that visiting Judge Steve Smith had been against the defense throughout the trial.
Thomas said he did not see the defendants misbehavior during the course of the trial.
"A lot of people like you a lot," Thomas said.
Robin Zubek, a prospective juror from the Arditti trial, testified to the contrary on Monday saying the attorneys were threatening and disrespectful.
"I thought they showed total disrespect for everyone in the courtroom except for themselves and their client," Zubek said.
After the Arditti verdict was read, Smith said Caballero and Leeds' behavior was the worst he had seen in his entire career.
Smith claimed Caballero and Leeds were disrespectful to the court during the Arditti trial and actively turned the jury against the court.
Caballero and Leeds continue to refer to Judge Smith as a "liar" and a "racist."