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Column 060616 Wall

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Galling Saga of 'El Chapo,' Disjointed Attorneys, and Showbiz

By Allan Wall 

The entire Chapo Guzman case has so many bizarre complications that one wonders where it will all end up?

(For a summary of Chapo Guzman’s career from the 1990s to the present, click here.)

Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman, Sinaloa cartel drug lord, was captured the latest time on January 8th, 2016, and on May 7th he was transferred to a prison in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, which could make his extradition very swift and practical.  This is also true on the other side of the border, as El Paso is home to a number of U.S. security installations (see here).

The extradition case, however, is fraught with controversy within Guzman’s own legal team.  In my previous article, 'El Chapo's' Extradition Process Advances as his Attorneys Duel, I reported how the infamous prisoner’s own legal team seems at cross-purposes.  (I say “seems” as one might also consider whether it is part of a coordinated plan, although we can’t of course prove that.)

In my previous article, I quoted the Associated Press report that Guzman lawyers Juan Pablo Badillo and Jose Luis Gonzalez Mesa “filed an appeal against the extradition request,” while another Guzman lawyer, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, informed the AP that the appeal was unauthorized by Chapo Guzman.

However, on May 30th (the same day my previous article was published) Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu stated that, “To our knowledge, Mr. Guzmán Loera has not filed any motion against those two extradition accords.”  (See here.)

Curiously though, a Mexican judge had reported receiving the motion, giving the Foreign Minister 48 hours to respond to it.  I guess that was the Foreign Minister’s way to respond, to not recognize it.

To further complicate the picture, Guzman attorney Jose Refugio Rodriguez has claimed that neither Badillo nor Gonzalez Meza belong to Guzman’s 12-person (!) defense team.  Furthermore, Rodriguez says his team will make its own appeal, properly approved by el Chapo himself.

As if all that were not enough, Guzman has lawyers dealing with another issue – lawsuits against media giants Netflix and Univision, the latter a U.S.-based Spanish-language network.

Dolia Estevez discusses this bizarre aspect of the Chapo Guzman saga in her informative Forbes article entitled, Do Univision And Netflix Have To Pay Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Guzmán To Air His Life Story?

The article begins thusly: “There’s a new TV drama in the works about drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, and there’s plenty of controversy about it already. Andrés Granados, a lawyer for El Chapo, told the Associated Press last week that his client will sue Univision and Netflix if they air a new TV series on the imprisoned Mexican drug lord’s life without remunerating him.”

So here you have this drug kingpin sitting in jail, his future under consideration, and he’s suing media companies for the profits for a television series about his life of crime.

You can’t make this stuff up.

What happened is that Univision and Netflix announced (on the 17th of May) that they would jointly produce “El Chapo,” a series based on the life of el Chapo Guzman.

The series is to aired first on Univision in 2017, after which it would be available to Netflix viewers in the United States.  Outside the United States, the series would premiere and air only on Netflix.

It sounds profitable.  The problem for Netflix and Univision is that, reports Dolia Estevez, “El Chapo’s lawyer Granados told the AP that the two networks have to pay for the right to use Guzman’s name and nickname.  According to Mexican press reports, Guzmán’s relatives registered ‘El Chapo’ as a brand name under Mexican law.”

Can you believe that, a drug kingpin has a brand name registered in Mexico.

Quoth Attorney Granados, “If they [Netflix and Univision] air this, they are immediately going to be sued.  They, by necessity, need the authorization of Mr. Guzmán because he is not dead.”

Now, don’t misunderstand.  It’s not that Attorney Granados is not willing to make a deal. 

As Dolia Estevez reports, “Granados expressed ‘great willingness’ to negotiate with Univision and Netflix and said that ‘at the right price’ the drug lord ‘could supply more information’ to make the series a better project.  Granados did not specify what the ‘right price’ would be.”

Well, of course not. As a negotiator Granados doesn’t want to name his price before beginning to wheel and deal.

And guess what?  Dolia Estevez points out that “Granados is the same attorney that last year negotiated with Mexican-American actress Kate del Castillo on behalf of El Chapo granting her the rights to a film on his memoir.  Granados set up the October 2015 secret meeting between El Chapo, del Castillo and Hollywood star Sean Penn at an undisclosed location in Mexico where the film project was discussed.”

Regarding that bizarre chapter in the Chapo Saga, see The Spectacle of Sean Penn and the Drug Lord 'El Chapo' Guzman: A Review .

Oh, and Kate del Castillo need not be cut out of the action.  According to Granados she may also negotiate with Netflix and Univision.  After all, she presumably owns rights to the film negotiated with Granados on behalf of Chapo while the drug lord was still free.

There’s another issue here, remember that this would involve the legal jurisdictions of both Mexico and the United States.  And, says Estevez, “Is it not entirely clear if Univision and Netflix are required under existing U.S. law to pay El Chapo for the rights to his life story.”

According to Charles J. Glasser, a First Amendment attorney, Adjunct Professor of Media Ethics at New York University’s Arthur Carter Graduate School of Journalism, and author of The International Libel & Privacy Handbook, “Journalistic accounts of newsmakers, even using actual footage of the subject, have long been protected by the First Amendment, particularly when, as here, a notorious criminal is the subject matter. Otherwise bad guys could quash coverage.”

However, added Glasser, “that changes when someone’s life story – a form of intellectual property called the ‘right of publicity’ – is the basis for a fanciful or fictionalized film or show.”

Glasser conceded a point to Granados, but said that “If he [Granados] is correct that it is a fictionalized account, yes, he has an argument.  But Netflix and Univision have a PR problem … how will people feel about them ‘getting permission from’ – and probably paying – a notorious bad guy?”

The ethical questions, says Glasser, involve (1) editorial control by Chapo, and (2) paying money to a criminal.

Netflix and Univision can’t say the biopic is news if they are paying Chapo for it, or granting Chapo or Chapo’s lawyers editorial control of the biopic.

Dolia Estevez reports Glasser as saying that, “Giving editorial review and paying a story subject are patently unethical acts in journalism.”


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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