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Utahn says he pleaded guilty because of bond debt after his own lawyers got him jailed

West Jordan courthouse
utcourts.gov

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man says his own lawyers had him jailed in 2018 and he later pleaded guilty to DUI simply because he couldn’t afford to repay loans for bond.

Luis Fernando Sanchez is suing Salt Lake Legal Defender Association, alleging he went to court but his defense team still managed to get him arrested for failing to show up.

One of his public defender attorneys had been pressuring the 34-year-old West Valley man to take a plea deal, but Sanchez maintained his innocence, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.

“Public defenders, they’re overworked,” said Michael Teter, an attorney representing Sanchez in the civil suit. “They’re stressed, and it’s a system and they’re trying to get through it and do the best they can. And in this case, Luis was not budging and I think they were kind of frustrated by it.”

His client is alleging legal malpractice and says he was denied due process. Sanchez is seeking damages amounting to more than $300,000 for lost wages, harm to his reputation, emotional distress and other costs.

Mike Skolnick, an attorney representing the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association and the two lawyers, said the suit “is not well-grounded in fact or law.”

“Mr. Sanchez’s complaint omits important factual context and misstates several key facts,” Skolnick continued. We anticipate vigorously defending against Mr. Sanchez’s claims.”

On March 19, 2018, Sanchez says he waited in line to pass through the metal detector at 3rd District Court in West Jordan and arrived at a crowded courtroom five minutes late for the 9 a.m. hearing. He found his attorney, Heather Chesnut, about 10 minutes later and spoke with her.

But Chesnut, at the urging of attorney Daniel Torrence, had already asked a judge to call his case 12 minutes ahead of schedule, Sanchez alleges. The judge signed a $15,000 warrant and ordered a deputy to arrest Sanchez outside the courtroom a short time later.

When the judge asserted he’d arrived there an hour and a half later, his defense counsel didn’t set the record straight, the lawsuit alleges.

While Sanchez maintained his innocence, he ultimately pleaded guilty to DUI, a class A misdemeanor, later that year because of financial strain from posting bond. He recouped the money he’d paid after admitting to the charge.

“After fighting the matter and remaining steadfast for nearly four years, Luis could not afford to pay the interest on the loan he took to pay the bond for the arrest warrant,” the suit says.

But Torrence would yell at his client, the lawsuit contends, calling him “stupid” in one instance and saying, “I don’t work for you,” when Sanchez asked to read court cases that could inform his defense.

Sanchez alleges Torrence repeatedly pressured him to take a plea deal even though he had a legal basis to request the case be dismissed.

A hearing has not yet been scheduled.