The attorney representing Sophia Santos, daughter of Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos, asked a Nassau County District judge to be relieved of representation of his client in a Mineola, NY courtroom Nov. 14.
Felice Muraca became the attorney of record for Santos, 20, when she was charged with drunk driving after killing a Long Island, NY woman Nov. 11.
Muraca asked Judge Susan Kluewer to be excused because neither his client nor her family has signed a retainer agreement which, under New York law, is required in all criminal cases. Kluewer granted Muraca’s request and scheduled a court hearing for Nov. 21, at which time the judge requested the Santos family to bring financial documents to court to prove they could not afford an attorney.
Kluewer said because Santos is under 21, there is “an obligation [for her family] to support her, including for legal representation.”
Santos, who is being held on a $1 million bond or $500,000 cash bail, is on suicide watch in a Nassau County jail, according to Muraca. Santos did appear at the brief hearing before Judge Kluewer and answered several of the judge’s questions.
When asked if she understood Muraca’s request, Santos, turned to look at her mother, Maria Santos, who was seated in the courtroom, and said, “I don’t understand what that means. I have to talk to my mother.”
Maria Santos, Jose’s ex-wife, told the judge, “My ex-husband is not cooperating with me and will not answer my calls. I have to wait until he comes back to this country. I don’t have any money to hire [an attorney].”
Jose Santos, who retired from racing this year and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in August, is reportedly in his native Chile, visiting with relatives. Muraca said Santos, who won the 2003 Kentucky Derby aboard Funny Cide, is expected to return to New York Nov. 18.
“I’m hoping that Mr. Santos comes back from Chile and hires me,” Muraca said after the court hearing. “This is an extraordinarily difficult case. The work will require the constitutionality of a new statute that is just a week-an-a- half old. I believe the statute to be unconstitutional.”
The statute Muraca refers to is aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. It is a charge Muraca believes a grand jury will impose upon Santos. She has already pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, driving while intoxicated, and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle at her arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead, NY Nov. 12.
Fatally injured in the accident was 62-year-old Virginia Casazza Urgo, who died at the scene in Levittown, NY. Two other passengers in the car with Urgo, her husband, John, and sister, Linda Chapman, are currently hospitalized with critical injuries.