It emerged this week that celebrated New York criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman was picked by accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán to represent him in the drug trafficking case he faces in a Brooklyn court.
After spending hours with Guzmán in jail, he says his client is charming in person. "We connected, I liked him a lot from the first moment I met him. We believe in his case," he told Univision in an interview in his office this week.
"He is a very funny, highly intelligent guy with a great memory. He remembers everything, he is like a sponge," he said.
Lichtman achieved fame in 2009 after successfuly defending John Gotti Jr in 2009 mistrial on charges of racketeering and murder. "John was acquitted on a number of charges, found not guilty, and the jury was hung on the rest, and that was considered to be a very big, shocking result in America," Lichtman said.
But Lichtman may have a problem in the Guzmán case. Lichtman previously represented a convicted drug trafficker, Margarito Flores, who together with his identical twin brother, Pedro, could be key witnesses in Guzmán's upcoming trial.
That has the wives of both men worried.
"Jeffrey Lichtman was retained by my husband. He was his attorney. It's hard because Chapo has people are all over the world, he's such a powerful man," Margarito Flores' wife, Olivia, told Univision's Tifani Roberts. The two wives published a book, "Cartel Wives," in June about their lives and the role of their husbands in Guzmán's downfall. (A Spanish version is coming out next month.)
Experts agree. "The fact that Jeffrey Lichtman has represented witnesses in the case of El Chapo Guzmán represents a great obstacle for him to be able to participate as a lawyer in his trial," said Miami attorney, Jose Quinon.
Lichtman could create a legal firewall in the case by finding another lawyer who is not associated with him to question the Margarito twins, Quinon added, a solution which judges have allowed in the past.
The Margarito twins ran Guzman's cocaine and heroin distribution network from Chicago. Known as 'Los Mellizos,' they worked as DEA informants agaist Guzmán and are both serving jail sentences.
"Anything regarding conflict of interest will be brought to the judge in due time," said Lichtman, who played down the issue. "We all have conflicts one way or another, it does not mean they are not waveable conflicts."
Before his arrest Guzmán was the world's most wanted drug trafficker with a storied past in the drug trade which is the subject of a Univision TV series.
Although he has met with Guzmán numerous times in jail and has spent more than 100 hours with him, Lichtman said he has not legally registered his representation of the drug lord yet and has not had a chance to properly study all the evidence and evaluate the potential witness list.
The conflict of interest could come up in court at a hearing as soon as Monday, along with another thorny legal issue: authorization of payments by Guzmán to his attorneys from the trafficker's tainted assets.