HOUSTON – Good or bad, Charles Freeman, the Texas lawyer requested by the alleged "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui, makes an impression in the courtroom.
While one Texas judge describes Freeman as "hard-charging" and "thorough," another considered him so disruptive that he barred Freeman from practicing in his courtroom for 10 years.
"I have been on the bench 20 years and I have not seen a more disruptive lawyer," state District Judge Mike McSpadden said Tuesday. "He has a huge contempt for the judicial system. I don't think there is any question about that, and it shows in his conduct."
Moussaoui wants a fellow Muslim to assist in his legal defense. Federal prosecutors fought Freeman's request to help Moussaoui, saying Freeman had not submitted to the FBI background check required for him to see evidence in the case.
In Alexandria, Va., where Moussaoui's case is being heard, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema refused to let Freeman participate Tuesday. Brinkema said Freeman is not registered to practice law in Virginia and has not formally asked to enter the case as Moussaoui's attorney.
Freeman declined to comment outside the courthouse after the hearing.
But in court papers filed late Tuesday, Freeman said Brinkema's decision last Friday to deny him further visits with Moussaoui "fails our smell, taste and appearance of fairness tests."
Freeman said he does not intend to formally enter the case unless Moussaoui asks him to serve as his lawyer. The issue, Freeman said, is whether Brinkema will allow him to continue advising Moussaoui on federal law while Moussaoui acts as his own attorney.
The lawyer is 54, attended law school at the University of Houston and has practiced in Texas since 1985. He converted to Islam in 1988.
Freeman sometimes brings his prayer rug to the courthouse so he can pray in accordance with his religion. He has successfully defended a leader of Houston's black community on a drug charge and previously caught the national spotlight when he represented a sexual assault defendant who requested unsuccessfully that he be castrated.
Quanell X, a Houston civil rights advocate, said Freeman's faith in Islam and his belief in justice impressed him when he met the lawyer a decade ago.
"He is a defense attorney that will go in and truly advocate for the best interest of his client," Quanell X said. "If for some reason Brother Charles believes that there is a serious question (in Moussaoui's case) then I know Brother Charles would look into this case."
McSpadden said the first time Freeman was in his courtroom during the 1980s, Freeman succeeded in "alienating everyone in the courtroom."
"After the case was over, one of the jurors made a beeline to Mr. Freeman over at the counsel table and said, `You are the biggest disgrace I have ever seen in the legal system.' He said, `Thank you' and meant it."
State District Judge Belinda Hill has a different view of Freeman, describing him as a tenacious and formidable advocate.
"He's thorough. He is hard-charging. He is well-prepared. He is a good lawyer," Hill said. "What impresses me about Charles is he knows the law and he can recite the law to you."
She added: "He is very detail-oriented and sometimes, a little long-winded, but he does that in his mind to be extremely thorough."
In 1967, while an undergraduate at Texas Southern University, Freeman and four other students were charged in the shooting death of Houston police officer Louis Kuba. The officer died after gunfire erupted on the campus following a protest about a trash dump that had been moved to a black neighborhood.
Charges eventually were dropped against all the students. Freeman stood trial, but the charges against him were dismissed when the jury could not reach a verdict.
State District Judge George Godwin said some see Freeman's detailed approach as an attempt to waste the court's time or as part of a covert plan.
"I think he is misunderstood in that regard," Godwin said. "I think a lot of people see a hidden agenda and I haven't found that to be the case."