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Hispanic Lawyer In Demand
By Anthony Colarossi
July 29, 2001
For years, criminal defense lawyer Julio Gil de Lamadrid had his law practice based in Puerto Rico.
Although his clients cases often took him to places like New York and Philadelphia, he maintained his office on the island, where he became a well-known trial attorney.
During frequent travels to Florida, he noticed large numbers of Puerto Ricans relocating from the island to Central Florida. Initially, he saw an opportunity to advise people buying property here. Eight years ago he decided to take the Florida Bar exam and start a legal practice here.
Since opening his office, he says hes had many clients complain about their experiences with lawyers who spoke only English, de Lamadrid said. He estimates about 95 percent of his Orlando-area clients are Hispanic.
"Many times when a (non-Spanish-speaking attorney) talks to a client through an interpreter theres a lot of things that are missing," he said.
The New York-raised attorney saw an opportunity to represent clients here with a common language and culture. Today, he keeps busy flying between offices in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and East Colonial Drive in Orlando. He spends about 20 days a month here, and the remaining 10 days in Puerto Rico.
It was in Puerto Rico that de Lamadrid came across the mother of Victor Lopez, a man convicted in 1997 of a south Orange County murder and now serving a life sentence in a Florida prison. Lopez was granted an appeal in the case earlier this year, but the South Florida attorneys representing him failed to show up at his scheduled hearing.
In desperation, his mother insisted that de Lamadrid consider taking on the case.
After de Lamadrid read transcripts of the Lopez trial, he concluded that the case against Lopez was one of the weakest he had ever seen in 22 years practicing law.
"I still didnt know how this guy was convicted," he said. Last May, de Lamadrid obtained for Lopez a second hearing on the issue.The new hearing is scheduled for mid-August.
"I thought it was very unfair this guy was going to spend the rest of his life in jail without a fair hearing," de Lamadrid said.
During the 1996 trial, prosecutors had a sole witness testify that he saw Lopez running from the scene of the shooting. At the time, prosecutors thought they had a weak case against Lopez, and offered him a tempting deal: If he pleaded to a manslaughter charge, theyd agree to a two-year sentence. With time served, Lopez could have been released in 90 days or less.
But Lopez refused to plead to a crime he says he didnt commit. He went to trial and lost. His appeal, however, revolves around a lingering ankle injury that causes him to walk with a limp. How could he have run from the shooting, he asked, while suffering from his disabling condition?
De Lamadrid recently interviewed an Osceola doctor who treated Lopez a couple of months before the murder. The doctor said that Lopez could not have run at the time of the murder without a noticeable limp, de Lamadrid said.
The doctor is expected to be a key witness during the August hearing. To prepare for the second hearing, de Lamadrid is getting assistance from William Ramirez, a constitutional and civil rights attorney in Puerto Rico who provides advice via phone and email. He has never met de Lamadrid, but Ramirez is impressed that the criminal defense attorney has gotten as far as he has with the Lopez case.
"A lot of attorneys shy away from trying to correct what was not done well by another attorney," Ramirez said. Defending those criminally charged here and in Puerto Rico has become more demanding as "hysteria against crime" has developed everywhere, de Lamadrid said. He believes its equally difficult to win cases for defendants in Puerto Rico as in Central Florida. But de Lamadrid said he is fortunate enough to be able to choose his cases.
In Puerto Rico, he has handled several high profile cases, which have earned him some measure of fame, although hes still relatively unknown in Orlando. "Ive never tried to be well-known anywhere," he said. "Ive just tried to do my job."
Gil de Lamadrid was born in Manhattan and raised on Long Island, New York. He but decided to attend college in Puerto Rico, the home of his parents.
Despite the lawyers hectic schedule and frequent flier miles, he tries to spend much time with his wife, Matilde, and two children, Cristina and Julio.
But if hes not in Orlando, they know where to locate him.
"Anything they need, they just have to call me in Puerto Rico," he said.