Sunday, October 5, 2008

Who Are the Defense Lawyers for Ted Stevens?

Live from the Ted Stevens Trial

Washington, D.C.--

Whatever else Ted Stevens could be unhappy about, he can’t complain that his lawyers are too few or no good or paid too little.

Ted Stevens is represented by at least six lawyers at Williams & Connolly, probably the country’s premier white-collar defense law firm. Quarterbacking the defense team is the firm’s senior trial attorney Brendan Sullivan, who reportedly bills at $1,000 per hour.

Brendan Sullivan first gained fame as the lawyer for Oliver North during the Iran-Contra controversy in the 1980s. When a Senator tired of Sullivan’s frequent interruptions during his client’s Congressional testimony and suggested that North speak for himself, Sullivan exploded: “I’m not a potted plant.”

After defending North, Sullivan went on to represent former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and the Duke lacrosse players.

Three things stand out about all those Brendan Sullivan clients: All those defendants were high-profile, they had big money to spend on defense attorneys, and—despite the deep holes that they were all in initially—none of them spent a day in jail.

Sullivan prided himself for decades on the assertion that no client of his had ever served jail time. Although it may be that the 66-year-old attorney’s no-jail record stretches back only to the 1970s—and it definitely ended at his last trial when his client was convicted and sentenced to prison—Sullivan’s record is one of the most impressive of any criminal defense attorney in American history.

Washingtonian magazine even said in 2002 that Sullivan’s counterattacks against the government “have put more prosecutors in jail than their indictments have put away his clients.”

Accolades have rolled in for Sullivan: “D.C.’s Toughest Lawyer”…“Best Counsel Available” in Washington…“The Leading Lawyer in White Collar Criminal Defense” in Washington …one of “America’s One Hundred Most Influential Lawyers.”

All this praise comes from various publications, and is reprinted on his firm’s website. That roundup somehow omits a more telling comment from Sullivan concerning his practice: “By the time somebody comes to see me, they are pretty far up the creek. The good thing is that they will pay almost anything.”

That “paying almost anything” part is of course the rub, and this is why a magazine said Sullivan was “the first choice of almost everyone in trouble--if you can get him.”

Many criminal defendants are in bad trouble, but the great majority cannot afford the $1,000 per hour to hire Sullivan. Nor could the criminal justice system survive if every defense attorney mounted the same scorched-earth defense that Sullivan and his colleagues have frequently put on for their clients. Our system runs on guilty pleas and has been called “a guilty plea machine.”

It’s too bad for most criminal defendants that they don’t have somebody like Brendan Sullivan as their lawyer, because this exemplary attorney and his colleagues do a lot for their clients. Sullivan is a senior partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly, which bills itself on its website as “the firm to see.”

The law firm takes its moniker from that of its founding partner Edward Bennett Williams, whose biography is called The Man to See. Williams and the firm bearing his name have represented a “Who’s Who” of people in trouble in the last 60 years.

The client list has included crooner Frank Sinatra, Senator Joe McCarthy, Mafia power Frank Costello, fixer Bobby Baker, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, fugitive financier Robert Vesco, junk bond king Michael Milken, attempted assassin John Hinckley, and President Bill Clinton in his impeachment proceedings.

Brendan Sullivan is a protégé of Williams. As a young Army lawyer, Sullivan got Williams’ attention when he successfully defended 27 soldiers accused of mutiny after they linked arms in an Army stockade and sang “We Shall Overcome.” Two quick anecdotes from Williams’ career may shed light on how his protégé Brendan Sullivan will defend Ted Stevens.

Even though the government had tapes apparently showing videotapes of payoffs to Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, Williams secured a complete acquittal at a jury trial after having the famed boxer Joe Louis come to court and give Hoffa a hug in front of a largely African-American jury. (As discussed in a previous blog post, that victory is celebrated in an exhibit on the ground floor of the courthouse where Ted Stevens is being tried as well as in Evan Thomas’s book The Man to See.)

It also looked bad for Treasury Secretary John Connally when the government had bank records corroborating the testimony of a witness who claimed to have paid Connally $10,000 in cash as an illegal gratuity. Yet the jury returned an acquittal after Williams destroyed the credibility of the government’s chief witness in a lengthy cross-examination. A highlight of that cross occurred when Williams required the witness—a self-confessed bagman—to count the money himself in court in front of the jury.

It’s obvious that Sullivan will subject key prosecution witness Bill Allen, former oilfield-services baron and confessed briber, to a far tougher cross-examination than Allen faced in the two trials of Alaska state legislators he has testified in.

That cross-examination will be the product of intense preparation aided by a deep and talented bench. Williams & Connolly achieves its successes by employing lawyers with excellent records, giving them interesting work, and expecting them to labor for insane hours.

The firm’s attorneys like their description in Legal Times as “the Green Berets of high-stakes litigation,” and are known for being thoroughly prepared and fiercely aggressive both in person and in writing.

Both the outputs and the inputs of the intense preparation of the Williams & Connolly defense team have been obvious during the Stevens trial. The trial started less than two months after announcement of the indictment, which is very quick in the world of white-collar criminal defense. Notwithstanding that short window, Ted Stevens’ lawyers have barraged the prosecution with well over a dozen motions already, and bet on several more to come. (Visual evidence of all the documents in this case is obvious in court, where no fewer than 22 cardboard boxes sat behind the defense table Thursday.)

To produce all that paper, Williams & Connolly has fielded a large and talented team. Along with Brendan Sullivan, the defense has had Robert Cary, Alex Romain, and Beth Stewart speak in front of the jury.

Cary is smooth and effective, and he often makes arguments to the court while Sullivan saves himself for the biggest moments like opening statement and cross-examination of Bill Allen. Romain has handled much of the discussions surrounding pre-trial discovery, as well as some cross-examinations, and his status as African-American was noted in the press when he joined the Stevens defense team.

Perhaps the most surprising of the defense attorneys has been Beth Stewart, who has done some stylishly effective cross-examinations. Only three years out of law school, Stewart also stands out in the courtroom because she is often the tallest person there. Keep an eye on her.

Two other lawyers are shown as attorneys for Stevens. Joseph Terry was added to the defense team only last week. Craig Singer is a former U.S. Supreme Court clerk who appears to spearhead the paper blizzard for the defense team, and so far his speaking in court is restricted to talking to the judge about jury instructions. Williams & Connolly is famous for clear, tough, and effective prose that can be understood easily by laymen as well as judges.


diaphora said...

Do you know how Alaska stacks up to the rest of the states in terms of corruption? I dislike Palin but I'll bet readers would appreciate sources as unbiased as possible.

Cliff Groh said...

Alaska traditionally used to have a much cleaner record on public corruption than such states as Illinois, New Jersey, and Louisiana. Events uncovered over the past few years have obviously made that traditional view less tenable, however.

marxlaw said...

Great coverage Cliff. Very good stuff. Look forward to coffee with you next time you are in Sitka.

Unknown said...

Great stuff! nice briefing too.

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