December 8, 1999
TIJUANA, Mexico — In the wake of the grizzly discovery of mass graves on a Mexican drug smuggler's ranch in Juarez, a maverick attorney has announced an unprecedented legal campaign against U.S. drug consumers.
Juan Ocho, an attorney from Tijuana, Mexico, is seeking clients to join a massive civil suit against any and all U.S. citizens convicted for possession of marijuana and/or cocaine. According to a series of newspaper ads placed by Ocho's law firm, families of persons either injured or killed in connection with drug trafficking are entitled to remuneration from drug consumers in the U.S.
The ads are running in more than three dozen newspapers throughout the country. In Mexico, where violence related to the booming drug-smuggling industry has reached epidemic proportions, it has become commonplace for entire families to be executed, infants included, over business disputes involving drugs bound for the U.S. market. The vast majority of narcotics for sale in the U.S. enter via the Mexican border.
According to the Mexican Institute of Organized Crime, in 1999 alone an estimated 300 drug-related murders occurred in Sinaloa, the Mexican state that is home to many of the nation's most powerful drug suppliers. Another 300 killings have been reported in Baja California, a key stop on the U.S. drug supply route.
“We cannot wait any longer for the U.S. government to address the reckless behavior of its citizens, the consequences of which kill hundreds of innocent Mexicans each year,” declaims Ocho, whose own nephew was murdered in a restaurant shootout between competing drug traffickers. Adds Ocho, “Anyone who buys the drugs supplied by these murderers is an accomplice to their bloody crimes.”
The news of the impending class action suit has raised quite a few eyebrows in the U.S. legal establishment, where civil damages are rarely sought in connection with drug-related offenses. Ocho's strategy is even more daring in light of current U.S. drug policy, which targets Latin American drug suppliers and U.S. dealers, rather than domestic drug consumers, in its enforcement efforts.
“Imagine a flurry of class action lawsuits against Americans who have been convicted on drug possession charges in the last 10 years,” muses George Storos, a professor of law at Stanford University. “It's utter fantasy.”
But among lawyers who specialize in high-profile class action suits, there is less consensus as to whether or not Ocho and his clients will get their day in court. James Han, a product injury litigation specialist at Bartleby & Hermann, thinks Ocho may be able to ride on the coattails of current anti-gun and anti-tobacco suits. “We're in a moment when judges and juries are willing to accept the link between the sins of the consumer and the responsibility of the manufacturer — why not vice versa?”
Ocho, who says he has already been contacted by more than 20 possible clients, is confident of the legal basis for the potentially precedent-setting class action suit. “Drug use is not a victimless crime in this day and age,” warns Ocho. Yet despite his aggressive stance, Ocho is not without sympathy for persons who have served time in U.S. prisons for drug-related offenses.
“Clearly, in a civil lawsuit, where a financial award is the only means of justice, we will not be targeting the poor who already pay disproportionately for their crimes,” explains the brash legal crusader. “However,” Ocho adds, “there are plenty of upper- and middle-class cocaine users who have yet to pay the full price for their recreational drug of choice.”
South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being satirized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental. Comments? Holler@sttf.org.