The Advocate

Is Ulises Ferragut a hell of a lawyer or just plain hell?

Betty Collins adds, "And he set us up with the media, too, so we could tell people about our son and who he really is."

During a recent interview at his office, Ferragut says his firm gets calls each week from prospective clients who already have attorneys. As if on cue, Ferragut's secretary interrupts him with a call from a prisoner accused of first-degree murder.

The pair speaks briefly, and Ferragut promises to come by the jail later that day to chat. He says the man had sent him a note requesting a meeting. Ferragut says he doesn't plan to notify the man's current attorney before visiting.

Ferragut at his downtown Phoenix office.
Kevin Scanlon
Ferragut at his downtown Phoenix office.
Ferragut at his downtown Phoenix office.
Kevin Scanlon
Ferragut at his downtown Phoenix office.

"I think it's appropriate to just go see him," Ferragut explains. "He has an absolute right to go elsewhere, and how dare I deny him that right?"

Speaking generally, State Bar of Arizona director of lawyer ethics Lynda Shely says it's not mandatory for an attorney to let anyone know that he or she has been approached by an already represented client. But, as Shely notes, it's highly unusual for attorneys even to kibitz with someone else's client, much less do what Ferragut does routinely.

What accused murderer David Anthony's first attorney has accused Ulises Ferragut of doing is far more than just being rude: He says Ferragut solicited, then stole his client from under him.

The Anthony case is a weird one: a death-penalty case in which prosecutors will seek three murder convictions, even though the victims' bodies have yet to be found.

What's almost as interesting as the murder case are the controverted machinations that led to Ulises Ferragut taking over Anthony's representation last August.

Anthony hired Phoenix attorney John Gaertner after his arrest, and allegedly paid $30,000 to get the defense rolling. Gaertner says he treated Anthony as he treats all of his jailed clients -- meeting with him, then keeping him informed of upcoming court hearings and such.

But, in late August, Gaertner's law partner told him she'd heard in a media report that Anthony had replaced him with Ulises Ferragut.

"Not only does this guy up and steal my client, he didn't even have it in him to call me about it," says Gaertner, an affable man whose mood sours when he discusses Ferragut.

Though Gaertner said weeks ago he'd be filing a complaint with the State Bar, a spokesperson for the Bar says there are no disciplinary actions pending against Ferragut -- nor are there any past complaints on file.

Ferragut depicts a benign changing of the guard that began when he went to court last August 20 for the sentencing of a client on drug charges. He says Anthony was sitting in the juror's box as the hearing proceeded.

Recalls Ferragut: "He gestured over to me, so I went over and introduced myself. I know two prosecutors say I just walked up and handed him my card, but please. David said he'd like to talk to me about representing him, and I said sure. Then me and Cynthia [Leyh] went over to the jail, and agreed to represent him for free. And I did leave John a message, telling him Anthony had asked me to represent him, and that I wanted to compare notes with him. One or two days later, he calls me screaming bloody murder, says he's going to file a Bar complaint. That's it."

Counters Gaertner: "Ferragut's style is to take runs at other people's clients and see what will stick. I don't go to jail and pick them out and say I'll do it for free. Then, in this case, he puts the guy on television before he's even read the police reports or seen the four-hour police interview that David gave. I feel sorry for Mr. Anthony."

A transcript of a jailhouse telephone call from Anthony to his daughter, Deanna, on the evening of August 20, 2001, adds to the intrigue. During the call (jail authorities routinely record prisoners' phone calls), Anthony tells her that Ferragut is going to be his new attorney.

"Do you remember that kid that took a gun to school and all that?" Anthony tells her. "Well, he represented him, and they have about seven or eight murder cases going now."

He says he'd seen Ferragut that day, during the sentencing of the drug defendant: "And then [he] came over and talked to me. And so I asked this guy that he was representing . . . what kind of guy he was. He said, 'Oh, he has lots of people working for him.' John [Gaertner] is a nice guy, but I feel better with this guy here."

Anthony tells his daughter that Ferragut "wants to get the media involved. He wants to launch a media campaign and stuff like that, you know. . . . He's got a plan already, and he said he had thought about coming out to see me."

Anthony mailed a letter the next day to Deanna and her fiancé, which police later confiscated during the execution of a search warrant.

"He came to me while I sat in the juror's box yesterday for my hearing," Anthony wrote in part. "He told me who he was, and said that his firm had discussed my case and would like to represent me pro bono if I would be interested. I told him I would certainly be interested because I am innocent. And he said, 'I know you are. Here is my card, and I will come see you today.'"

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