Mauricio Celis, a politically connected Corpus Christi man convicted of impersonating a lawyer and indicted for impersonating a peace officer, will get another trial on the second conviction after a judge found his defense lawyers lacking.
“The court finds and concludes... that a new trial should be granted due to defense counsel’s ineffective, deficient and prejudicial performance,” ruled state District Judge Guy Williams.
Celis was arrested in late 2007, accused of acting as a lawyer without a license in finding and bringing cases to other attorneys. He was also accused of trying to take a naked woman into custody while he was wearing a bathrobe and flashing a sheriff deputy’s badge.
He was at the time a supporter of a number of political candidates, including Mikal Watts, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, 2006 gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, several state representatives and judges. Along with the criminal charges, he faced civil actions from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott related to the allegations of practicing law with no license.
The conviction that resulted from that last incident; Williams found that Celis’ lawyers could have contested the police seizure of the badge in question and did not. Without that evidence, there would have been no basis for the charge against him.
Had his lawyers pursued that, Williams wrote, a jury could have found that the badge was issued to Celis by Duval County’s sheriff and that he was never asked to give it back. The judge also said Celis was told by Nueces County officials that if he returned the badge, no charges would be filed. Celis’ lawyers at the time didn’t pursue that defense, either.