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Inmate accused of punching attorney

HOUSTON – Harris County public defender Danny Lacayo was meeting last Thursday with a client, Luciano Olivarez, when, court records show, Olivarez punched him while they were talking about Olivarez's aggravated assault and aggregate criminal mischief case.

Lacayo was not seriously hurt.

The incident happened while the pair were meeting in the basement of the Harris County jail on San Jacinto, prompting concerns a cramped criminal justice system is creating more pressure on everyone.

"We need to get out of that jail and we need to do it quickly," said defense attorney Murray Newman. "I think this is a lot more high pressure."

Newman said he believes that punch is the product of the tense conditions everyone in the criminal justice system has been working under since Harvey flooded the courthouse and shut it down.

“With what happened to Danny Lacayo, we were very lucky that wasn't worse," said Newman.

When the courthouse shut down, criminal court judges had to share courtrooms with civil court judges. That meant there wasn't enough space to handle a lot of the day-to-day business of criminal cases involving inmates.

Plus, the Sheriff’s Office no longer had access to the secure tunnel system it used to transfer inmates from the jail to the criminal courthouse. Jail inmates charged with felonies see judges and attorneys for routine matters in the basement of the jail. This system was put in place to keep the wheels of justice moving.

Newman explained what it was like meeting with a client who was still a jail inmate prior to Harvey.

"You had a glass partition between you every time you talked to a client," said Newman. "The only time you were ever in actual physical proximity to them without a partition was when you were in front of the judge, but even then they were either handcuffed or shackled."

Murray said since Harvey, attorneys and clients meet in a holdover room at the jail without some of those safeguards.

"You could be surrounded by people charged with murder, charged with aggravated sexual assault, charged with robbery," said Newman.

Newman's concern is the longer the courthouse stays shut down, the greater the chances someone else will get hurt.

"This is a situation that's bad for everybody," said Newman.

Olivares is now charged with assaulting a public servant. Sheriff's officials tell KPRC, deputies are always stationed nearby to make sure a situation doesn't spiral out of control, but keep enough distance to preserve attorney-client privilege.

County engineer John Blount also tells KPRC he hopes to reopen some courtrooms on possibly four of the upper floors of the criminal courthouse in 90 days or less.