A recent Mendez client is serving a nineteen-year sentence in federal prison after a Miami jury convicted him of espionage, along with four other Cuban agents. But one must judge a lawyer by the principles for which he stands, even when they are misunderstood and unpopular. For Mendez one of them is the Fifth Amendment: "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Numerous Cuban-American lawyers in Miami declined to defend those charged with spying for Cuba. And sure enough, once the trial began, fanatical anti-Castro radio commentators called Mendez a "scoundrel" for taking the job. In so doing they impugned not only Mendez but one of the most crucial of American judicial institutions, the Office of the Federal Public Defender, Mendez's employer. The public defender provides counsel even to the most unseemly of characters, who are, under our system, still innocent until proven guilty. Beating an espionage rap, however, is almost impossible, and jurors were not about to forgive anyone who appeared to be snooping around U.S. military bases. Judge Joan Lenard slammed four of the defendants with the maximum penalties allowed, but Mendez managed to shave 11 years off the nearly 30-year sentence federal prosecutors had sought for his client.
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