Casey Anthony's Lawyer Jose Baez Has Trials of His Own

Baez wasn't allowed to join bar for 8 years over bad checks and other issues.

ByABC News
June 7, 2011, 1:42 PM

June 8, 2011 — -- Like many attorneys defending a client facing the death penalty, Casey Anthony's attorney recently moved for a mistrial. While the strategy is common, Jose Baez's reasoning was not. He claimed the evidence disparaged his character.

By stepping into the spotlight of the Florida courtroom, Baez went from being a local lawyer with a past that includes child support battles, bad checks and bikini businesses to the defense attorney in the most high profile case in the country at the moment.

Baez, 42, is defending Casey Anthony from charges that she killed her 2-year-old daughter Caylee, a crime that could warrant her a death sentence.

Richard Hornsby, a defense attorney who has followed the case closely, was president of the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers when he first learned about Casey Anthony's hiring of Baez in 2008.

"I first said, 'Jose who?" Hornsby said. "I had no idea who he was."

It has taken a while for Baez to establish himself as a defense lawyer. Despite graduating from law school in 1997, the Navy veteran was denied admission to the Florida bar for eight years until 2005.

An order by the Supreme Court of Florida states that he was denied admission because of his failure to pay child support to his ex-wife and secure life and health insurance for his teenage daughter. It states that he had previously declared bankruptcy, written bad checks and defaulted on student loans, the court said.

The Florida Supreme Court said his financial mishaps coupled with failure to pay child support "show a lack of respect for the rights of others and a total lack of respect for the legal system, which is absolutely inconsistent with the character and fitness qualities required of those seeking to be afforded the highest position of trust and confidence recognized by our system of law."

Baez declined several requests by ABC News to comment on this story.

Casey Anthony's own family questioned their daughter in jailhouse tapes about the attorney she'd chosen. In a conversation on July 25, 2008, Casey Anthony's brother told his jailed sister that Baez's number one priority is himself.

"Understand your rights in this... If at any point you want to change jockeys in this horse race, you can do it…it's as simple as you reaching out to anyone in the Corrections Department…and make it known on what you want to do," Lee Anthony advised his sister.

Casey Anthony's Lawyer's Checkered Background

Her brother asked her in one jailhouse interview how she came to hire him.

"It kind of happened at random in booking," Casey Anthony told her parents according to jailhouse tape that was played at her trial. "I heard a couple of people talking about attorneys...His name came up and I said if he's good, can you do me a favor and pass my name along…It was an inmate and there was three other people that confirmed it."

Casey Anthony's parents, George and Cindy Anthony, also expressed concern over her choice of a lawyer. George Anthony questioned Jose Baez's motives on a taped conversation with his daughter from Aug. 3, 2008.

"I just, I hope that the compassion that he says that he has is being genuine…I hope he's not building a reputation for himself," George Anthony said.

Baez, now in the most high profile case of his career, recently asked the judge to declare a mistrial because of these disparaging remarks played in the courtroom, but Judge Belvin Perry denied his motion.

"He's a guy with a colorful and complicated past and a very confusing present," said Robert Jarvis, a lawyer and professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center. "His courtroom demeanor leaves you with a sense that this is a guy who is in over his head."

The smartly dressed Baez appears confident in court, but he's making rookie mistakes, lawyers said.

"He's really flying by the seat of his pants. From his very confusing open, from the way he's been cross examining witnesses, at this point, you really have to wonder what his strategy is," said Jarvis.

Baez stunned the courtroom by arguing in his opening statements that his client had lied all along about Caylee being kidnapped by a nanny, and announced that the toddler had drowned in the family pool on June 16, 2008.

Casey Anthony's nearly three year lie, he claimed, was part of a bizarre coping mechanism she developed from years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Baez also suggested that George Anthony helped dispose of Caylee's body. No witness, including George Anthony, has corroborated the defense's claims.

Florida attorney Diana Tennis has represented accused murderers and said that Baez has grown as a lawyer over the past three years.

"I thought his opening statement was fantastically delivered, but his cross [examination] is a problem," she said. Tennis said that Baez frequently makes objections the judge has already ruled on and during cross examination, he asks questions that he doesn't know the answer to, a no no for an attorney.

Baez had only been a practicing lawyer for three years when he first met with Anthony. He has been involved in two high profile cases in Florida during his brief legal career. The first involved his defense of a woman charged with kidnapping her roommate's child. The charges against the roommate were eventually dropped.

He defended a man accused of killing a well known boxer's granddaughter. That man, Nilton Diaz, was convicted of manslaughter. Diaz filed a motion for a new trial claiming Baez was a defective attorney. His motion was denied.