A US federal judge on Monday refused to help private lawyers hoping to represent drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman obtain guarantees that they would get paid if they take the case.
The four attorneys that Guzman has chosen want a guarantee that US prosecutors will not seize their legal fees as part of the $14 billion forfeiture they are seeking of Guzman's alleged drug profits.
But at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, US District Judge Brian Cogan said that the lawyers should run the risk of working without pay if they want to defend Guzman.
If the private attorneys want "to come in, they have to do it soon... and take the contingency," Cogan said.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman told reporters outside the courthouse that his team is "looking forward desperately to come into this case."
However, "we have to make some arrangements to make sure that we can come in and that we'll be able to actually get paid," said Lichtman, best known for successfully defending John "Junior" Gotti, son of the so-called "Dapper Don" John Gotti Senior at trial in 2005.
"We're willing to take the case," Lichtman said, but don't want to get paid "and then two weeks later the government freezes all our bank accounts. Where does that put us?"
He reminded the defense that the trial will begin on April 16 and that he does not want to postpone it.
Guzman, 60, is one of the world's most notorious criminals who twice escaped prison in his native Mexico.
He is accused of running the Sinaloa cartel, one of the world's biggest drug empires. He was extradited to New York on January 19, and is being held in solitary confinement.
Guzman faces a string of firearms, drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.
If convicted of just the first charge -- heading the Sinaloa Cartel -- he will likely spend the rest of his life behind US bars.
The attorneys said that Guzman will meet on Thursday with a relative for the first time since his extradition, and that authorities will monitor the meeting, scheduled to last two hours.
That relative, however, will not be his 28 year-old beauty-queen wife Emma Coronel. Guzman is not allowed to meet her.
Lichtman said that his team has been working for months on the case, and once Guzman "meets with his family, we are hoping that soon thereafter we'll be able to be retained and plead the case."
Guzman wore a blue prison jumpsuit at the hearing. He is currently being represented by two court-appointed attorneys.
Coronel was also at the hearing along with the couple's young twin daughters.
Lichtman also said that he noted some "deterioration" in Guzman's health.
"I've noticed it weekly since February, he's not as quick mentally as in February," Lichtman said.
The next hearing is scheduled for November 6.