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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jose Baez...the "Columbo" of the courtroom!

     During the closing arguments phase of the Casey Anthony trial, prosecutor Jeff Ashton openly laughed at the antics of lead defense attorney Jose Baez, Ashton`s smug arrogance on display as he confidently assumed conviction was near as he watched the supposedly inept Baez fumble about the courtroom searching for a miracle to save his client. Across the media of the nation, pundits and talking heads dismissed Baez as a fumbling, bumbling fool who bordered on inconsistent or outright incompetent. To all of those "in the know" he was in over his head, a nobody who dared tread where he obviously didn`t belong. How dare this ninth grade dropout, GED diploma carrying nobody, think he could take on the resources of the state, the brightest attorney`s the District Attorney had to offer, and win an acquittal, especially with a client as flawed as Casey Anthony. A strange thing happened...he did it!

     How Baez wound up in that courtroom is a long and bizarre story. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York and Florida by a single mother, he dropped out of high school and was a married father at seventeen.   Having earned his GED diploma, he joined the Navy in 1986, he spent three years in the Navy and then went on to graduate from Fla St University. In 1997, Baez graduated from St. Thomas Law School and applied to become a lawyer in April 1998. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners denied him a license to practice law, a refusal which lasted until 2005 due to unpaid child support, and other financial obligations he had failed to address. After obtaining his law license he remained an obscure local attorney with one trial of consequence on his resume, he defended Nilton Diaz who was charged with first degree murder in the killing of Noeris Vazquez, the 2 year old granddaughter of boxing legend Wilfredo Vazquez and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter.

     Baez had been practicing law only 3 years when he first met Casey Anthony in 2008 at the Orange County Jail. She had overheard other inmates mention his name and suggested they contact him for her, he met her the next day. Upon hearing she had chose this unknown nobody of a lawyer with limited experience as her attorney, her family and friends tried to persuade her to go a different route, but she was insistent on sticking with him. From opening arguments on, his tactics and style seemed to suggest a person lost in a fog of reality, throwing anything and everything against the wall in hopes that something would stick. Many questioned if he actually knew what he was doing, wondering if it were inexperience they were witnessing or plain stupidity. His accusations against George Anthony, along with a far fetched drowning scenario were seen as asinine and insulting to the common sense of most. Nancy Grace, went so far as to call him "totally incompetent", along with a host of others.

     But much like the television detective "Columbo", Baez snatched victory from the jaws of certain defeat right when it seemed he couldn`t possibly bumble and stumble to a greater degree. His calling his client a "slut" in closing arguments was seen by many of the legal mind, an unwise move at best. But in the end, as the smoke cleared and the jury spoke, it was he who had prevailed.