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Eye On Boise

Labrador, agent defend handling of Lopez case

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador was joined by retired INS special agent Kent Nygaard at a press conference just now to criticize incumbent Walt Minnick’s latest ad, which involves a case on which Nygaard was the INS agent and Labrador was the defense attorney. Nygaard said there were 26 defendants in the case, and all of their defense lawyers, like Labrador, argued for releasing them pending trial. Nygaard said he opposed the release and argued against it. “It was a continuing battle with the U.S. Magistrate’s office,” Nygaard said. “We would bring illegal aliens in, and they probably half the time would release them subject to some sort of conditions.” In the case of Labrador’s client, Carlos Lopez, because he was an illegal immigrant, he was released to the INS, which promptly deported him to Mexico. That meant he avoided facing the federal charges until three years later, when he was arrested again trying to re-enter the United States.

But Nygaard, who’s backing Labrador’s campaign, said Labrador was just doing his job as a defense attorney. “Mr. Labrador defended his client in this matter as he was required to do under his oath and as expected by the prosecution,” Nygaard said. “His actions in this case were in accordance with proper handling of a criminal case by a defense attorney.”

Labrador and Nygaard both said Lopez was a “low-level” defendant in the case who was accused of being present when money changed hands for a drug deal. “We actually thought he had a good defense,” Labrador said, adding that there was no evidence Lopez knew of the drug deal. “I was just doing my job. He was released into the custody of the INS and the INS deported him.”

Asked if he regrets getting Lopez released - rather than having him face the charges and perhaps win acquittal - Labrador said no. “It’s my job to represent my clients. I would actually lose my license if I don’t do everything I can to represent my clients,” he said.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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