An attorney representing one of the men indicted in connection to the multidefendant MS-13 gang case is seeking to bar the court from violating his client's constitutional right to a lawyer.
Attorney Gary Dunlap, who represents Rafael Castro, told the court during a hearing Friday that his client could no longer afford to continue paying him as a private lawyer but that he would not abandon him if and when Castro goes to trial.
"I'm not going to withdraw as his attorney," Dunlap said Friday. "He has constitutional rights to a lawyer."
Castro, whose court-appointed attorney was relieved last year, is the only defendant in the case with private counsel. A court-appointed attorney is a lawyer chosen by the court and paid for by the county to defend a client facing criminal charges who is unable to afford a private defense attorney.
A few weeks ago, Dunlap made a motion to have the court appoint him to continue representing Castro, who has run out of money since being incarcerated in the last two years. The court reportedly denied the motion, and instead, offered to dismiss Dunlap and appoint new representation, which would mean Castro's case would be delayed.
During the brief hearing Friday, Dunlap told Judge John McGregor that he plans to renew his request to have the court appoint him to continue representing Castro.
"I think under the circumstances of the stress that's been placed on Mr. Castro as a result of the court's previous denial of my motion to have me appointed as his counsel, I'd like to renew this motion," Dunlap said. "It's a denial of his constitutional rights to an attorney."
Castro has reportedly been left destitute, since after his arrest his once successful auto body repair business in Bakersfield shut down, Dunlap said.
The judge said the court will consider any motion filed before the next court date, which will be Feb. 9, when all the defendants on the case are expected to enter pleas.
Settlement discussions are still continuing between the prosecution and defense for the defendant. Castro has until Feb. 9 to enter a plea or take a deal.
Dunlap had previously also filed a motion to disqualify the judge from presiding over his client's case, on the grounds that the judge will be biased against Castro, which the court denied Friday.
Nearly two years ago, a criminal grand jury handed down 50 felony counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, criminal street gang and multiple gun enhancements to a group of alleged MS-13 gang members who were nabbed following a sting operation called Operation Matador, which was executed in the wee hours of March 3, 2016, in Santa Maria.
Castro and his co-defendant, Jose Eleuterio Mejia Orellana, were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, plus gang allegations.