11/27/2007 12:00AM

Sophia Santos gets public defender

EmailSophia Santos, daughter of retired Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos, was assigned a court-appointed attorney on Monday for her pending trial on vehicular homicide charges, but Jose Santos could decide to pay for an attorney of her own choosing at a later date, a representative for him said Tuesday.

"We're not saying Jose's not going to provide an attorney, but it's going to be on his terms," said Jim Druker, a partner in the law firm of Kase and Druker in Garden City, N.Y. "He's very concerned about his daughter's situation. He's not saying no, just not on these terms."

Sophia Santos, 20, was charged following a Nov. 11 accident in Levittown, N.Y., in which prosecutors said a car she was driving ran a red light, struck another car, and killed Virginia Casazza Urgo, a 62-year-old passenger in the other car. According to prosecutors, a breath test showed Sophia Santos's blood-alcohol level was twice the permitted level of 0.8 percent. Two other people traveling with Urgo were seriously injured.

Druker said he appeared in Nassau County Court on behalf of Jose Santos on Monday before acting judge Dana Jaffe. Jaffe, who is hearing the Sophia Santos case, asked Jose Santos to attend and provide financial statements.

"I told him to stay in Florida," where Jose Santos lives, Druker said by telephone Tuesday. "We objected on four points. First, Jose is not a party to this. Second, he was not served. Third, the judge had no jurisdiction over him. And fourth, she had no authority to issue that order. After a lot of back and forth, she admitted she lacked the direct authority over Jose."

As a result, Druker said, legal aid was ordered for Sophia Santos.

Druker said in court on Monday that Jose Santos currently has no income except for disability insurance. During his career, Santos's mounts earned more than $180 million, from which a jockey usually gets 10 percent for a victory, 5 percent for finishing second or third, and less for finishing out of the money - minus expenses such as paying an agent.

Sophia Santos is from Jose Santos's first marriage. Jose Santos divorced his first wife and has remarried. He has six children from the two marriages. Sophia Santos was driving a 2006 Mercedes-Benz that belonged to Jose Santos's second wife, Rita, at the time of the accident, Druker said in court Monday.

Jose Santos, 46, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer shortly after announcing his retirement. He did not return to competition after a spill last February at Aqueduct, in which he severely injured several vertebra. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide in 2003. He also won the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic on Volponi.