A former Salvadoran congressman convicted of drug trafficking
while in office had his sentencing postponed yesterday after
complaining that his attorney did a poor job of defending him.
A federal judge in Washington agreed to provide a new lawyer for
William Eliu Martinez, who faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10
years for helping to run what law enforcement authorities described as
one of Central America's biggest cocaine smuggling rings. A jury
convicted him in June of distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to
Martinez, 46, complained in a letter to the judge that his
court-appointed attorney stopped speaking to him and failed to call
character or defense witnesses during the trial. He said the attorney
also failed to heed his request to file an appeal after the jury's
guilty verdict. Additionally, he said, the Spanish-English
interpreters made mistakes in translating a key portion of trial
"I feel that many of my constitutional rights have been
violated," Martinez wrote in an Oct. 19 letter to visiting U.S.
District Judge Michael M. Mihm, who presided over the trial. The case
was tried at the federal courthouse in Washington because it involved
drugs that were brought into the United States.
Martinez's attorney, Shawn Moore, an assistant federal public
defender, and co-counsel Lara G. Quint sought permission to withdraw
from the case in light of Martinez's allegations.
Mihm, who met privately with Martinez and the defense attorneys
before granting the motion to withdraw, said during a hearing
yesterday that he was reluctant to change lawyers between the trial
and sentencing. Given the allegations, however, he said he felt he had
no choice. He said he would confer with Chief U.S. District Judge
Thomas F. Hogan on selecting a replacement defense attorney. No date
was set for sentencing.
Moore declined to comment on the allegations.
Michael C. Mota, a Justice Department prosecutor, said during
the hearing that Martinez had raised similar complaints during the
trial but that Mihm had decided then against stopping the proceedings.
Martinez served as a congressman from the National Action Party
in El Salvador from 1999 to 2002. He is confined to the D.C. jail,
where another inmate helped him write the letter.
Martinez's family and friends have created a Web site, calling
him "a good, honest and dedicated public official" who has been
But prosecutors argued at his trial that he helped smuggled 36
tons of cocaine into the United States from 1998 to 2002 and used his
position as a congressman to cover up the crimes.