Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Lawyer for jailed American in Cuba also advocates case of Cuban spies jailed in the U.S.

    Posted on Saturday, 02.26.11

    Lawyer for jailed American in Cuba also advocates case of Cuban spies
    jailed in the U.S.

    Attorney for American on trial in Cuba Friday has a connection to five
    spies jailed in the U.S.
    By Frances Robles

    An American government contractor whose family and government contend is
    being unjustly held behind bars in Cuba goes on trial Friday.

    His defense attorney: Nuris Piñero Sierra, who also represents the
    families of five Cuban intelligence agents who says are being
    unjustly held in U.S. federal prisons.

    "What a coincidence!" said Wilfredo Vallín, president of an opposition
    lawyers association in Cuba.

    The selection of Piñero to defend American Alan has raised
    eyebrows among Cuba-watchers, who suspect the veteran attorney was
    chosen to strategically place her where she could play a key role as an
    intermediary brokering a swap for her other clients. Experts in
    the Cuban legal field say the world-traveled lawyer will nonetheless do
    her best to defend the 61-year-old ailing American — who stands little
    chance of getting a fair trial on charges of acting against the state.

    "Having her as Mr. Gross' defense attorney is significant," Vallín said.
    "She will defend him without limit — guaranteed. They have to at least
    give the appearance of giving him a fair hearing."

    Gross was a subcontractor for Maryland-based Development Alternatives
    Inc., which had a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to
    promote democracy and communications on the island. The U.S. government
    has said Gross had gone to Cuba to help bring the to Jewish

    He was allegedly caught with satellite phones, and Jewish community
    leaders in Havana told The Associated Press they never heard of him.
    Another leader told CBS News this week that he met Gross a few times,
    but already had web access and didn't need his help.

    Prosecutors recently announced they are seeking a 20-year sentence
    against Gross for crimes against the integrity of the state. His wife,
    Judy Gross, hired lawyers in both Washington and Havana.

    "The intent has to be — and I don't blame her — of trying to make some
    kind of swap," said Cuba specialist Andy Gomez, a vice provost at the
    of Miami. "It's the only angle to explain why '
    wife would want this."

    The U.S. government has said emphatically that Gross will not be traded
    for any of the so-called "Cuban Five," Cuban intelligence agents
    more than a decade ago and convicted of spying. Heroes at home,
    the men infiltrated community groups and tried to snoop on
    military installations.

    An unending media campaign in Cuba and the was launched on
    their behalf. Piñero was often the spokeswoman for the spies' relatives
    in Cuba, several of whom were denied U.S. visas to visit their jailed
    family members. She has appeared on Cuba's government TV news program
    Round Table, and is often quoted in the state media blasting the
    American legal system.

    She's known as an accomplished administrator and public face of the Cuba
    legal team. Piñero appears to be working hard and visits her client
    regularly, Judy Gross told The Miami Herald in November.

    Paul McKenna, attorney for convicted spy Gerardo Hernández, insisted
    that Piñero is an excellent attorney who will put on the best defense,
    no matter the political overtones.

    "She's not a commie robot who's going to screw an American because
    somebody told her to do it," McKenna said. "She has integrity, as hard
    as that is for people in Miami to believe. I don't vouch for Cuba's
    legal system. I vouch for her."

    McKenna said he spent "hundreds of hours" with Piñero during the more
    than a dozen trips he took to prepare his case a decade ago. A warm,
    funny grandmother, she wasn't afraid to butt heads with authorities who
    put up bureaucratic obstacles. Her cases ranged from complicated
    contracts to probate and criminal defense, he said.

    She lives in a comfortable home in Havana's Marianao suburb, near the
    famed Tropicana nightclub, McKenna said.

    "The one good thing you could say about Alan Gross' situation is the
    lawyer he has," McKenna said. "She's a lawyer's lawyer."

    Foreigners in legal trouble in Cuba are required to pick a defense
    lawyer from the Guild of Specialized Legal Services, a government
    cooperative that handles international cases. For years, Piñero has run
    that cooperative, which has several dozen attorneys.

    The family's D.C. attorney, Peter Kahn, declined to comment for this
    report. Through a family spokeswoman, Judy Gross issued a statement
    saying she was anxious for her husband's return, but she did not address
    the questions relating to how she chose Piñero.

    "I am increasingly worried about the impact the incredible emotional
    pain and stress he is enduring will ultimately have on Alan's own
    ," she wrote.

    Piñero did not return messages left by telephone and email.

    A U.S. State Department spokesman said consular officials provide jailed
    Americans with a list of local attorneys but do not make recommendations.

    In court, defense attorneys in Cuba are allowed to present witnesses,
    who testify before a panel that includes a judge and two civilians.
    Trials usually last no more than two days and are open to the public,
    but political cases are sometimes closed to the media.

    "The two civilians will be two old geezers who are asleep," said Juan
    Ignacio Hernández Nodar, a Cuban-American baseball agent who stood trial
    in 1996 for "inciting" players to defect. "After holding me for two and
    a half months, they came to me one day and said I would have a trial in
    two days. On Sunday, they gave me a brand new uniform, and on Monday I
    testified for four hours. A month later, they told me I'd been sentenced
    to 15 years."

    He was freed in October 2009.

    "The whole thing is a circus," said Hernández, who now lives in the
    Dominican Republic. He acknowledged that his attorney — who worked at
    Piñero's collective — worked hard for him.

    "She's going to fight like the devil for him," Hernández said. "He'll
    get a high sentence anyway, because that's already been decided by
    somebody else, and she will use that to pressure the United States to
    trade him. This is a person who is super-committed to the Cuban state.
    If she's defending the 'five compatriots,' what kind of power must she
    have with the Cuban government? They don't give that job to just anybody."

    Camilo Loret de Mola, who represented Hernández in the 1996 trial, said
    he doubts Piñero will litigate the case herself. She's more likely to
    contact the family and consular officials, visit Gross in jail and give
    press conferences, he said.

    "She coordinates, organizes, makes decisions, bills the clients and
    hands money over to the government," said Loret de Mola, who defected
    seven years ago. "She's not a litigator. She can't be his attorney. It
    doesn't make sense."

    He agreed with other experts who said the lawyer will put on a good defense.

    "They know it will be pointless and fall on deaf ears anyway," he said.