A Hall County Superior Court judge disqualified a Gainesville attorney from representing a couple charged with murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl, raising concerns about conflicts of interest in defending both the husband and wife, according to court documents.
The decision by Superior Court Judge Jason Deal reversed a previous judgment he made and will now go to the Supreme Court of Georgia for review.
Attorney Arturo Corso has represented both Juan Martinez and Nancy Martinez, of Gainesville, who face felony murder and child cruelty charges from the Oct. 10 death of 2-year-old Valeria Jordan Garfias.
The Martinez couple were accused of causing “traumatic brain injury and other internal injuries” to Valeria between noon and 2 p.m. Oct. 10, according to authorities.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty, and Corso previously told The Times and filed in subsequent court motions that Nancy Martinez was at work at the time of the child’s death.
In court filings, Corso said the defendants and their families repeatedly asked for Corso to represent them.
After concerns by the prosecution about a potential conflict of interest in representing both defendants, two independent attorneys were ordered by Deal to consult with the co-defendants and then report back to the court.
Attorney John Warr, who represented Nancy Martinez, told the judge his conversations with her led him to believe there was not a potential conflict of interest.
Attorney Ted Cassert, representing Juan Martinez, thought differently, according to the judge’s order.
“Mr. Cassert testified that he believed there was a conflict, and that although Mr. Martinez wished to waive that conflict, Mr. Cassert believed that Mr. Martinez could not waive the conflict,” according to the judge’s order.
After Deal heard from these attorneys, he originally decided to not remove Corso from representing the two defendants, according to court documents.
In late July, Corso filed motions for psychological evaluation and special pleas of mental incompetence to stand trial for both of his clients. He said the mental statuses of his clients “appear to be in decline.”
Corso also claimed in a motion that Juan Martinez “appears to have made a false confession.”
“Even the police interrogators opined that the confession was false and did not fit the evidence,” according to Corso’s motion.
Corso asked for a special jury trial to determine if his clients were competent enough to stand trial.
Citing the pending nature of the case, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh declined to comment.
After transferring the case to a separate docket to allow time for the competency evaluations, Deal “expressed concerns” about his prior ruling and revisited the issue at an Aug. 1 hearing.
“Here, the court finds there is a conflict and other serious potential conflicts that require the court to disqualify Mr. Corso from representing the defendants,” Deal wrote in his order.
In outlining the possible conflict of interest, Deal wrote that it would be in Nancy Martinez’s interest “for her not to be at the scene of the crime.”
“Conversely, for Mr. Martinez, it would be in his interest for Ms. Martinez to be present at the scene, lest he be the only suspect with the opportunity to commit the alleged acts,” Deal wrote.
Corso then filed a motion for immediate review of the judge’s order.
“The constitutional right to counsel of your choosing is paramount, and the state’s intrusion into those rights are alarming,” Corso wrote.
Deal granted Aug. 2 review of his order to the Supreme Court of Georgia.