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“My client has no comment. We don’t try our case in the media.” That’s the way defense lawyers handle press inquiries by the book. And it’s still the bible to some lawyers — especially those who don’t represent high-profile clients. But increasingly in cases with well-known defendants, that book has been consigned to the remainder bins. For celebrities and well-known defendants, there are almost always two cases: one in court and one in the press. Each carries attendant risks, but for some clients the publicity represents much more than the indulging of vanity. It may be even more important than the trial. “You can win the trial, and still destroy the person’s reputation and their livelihood,” said Lorna G. Schofield, who represented Rosie O’Donnell in a messy trial against the former publishers of Rosie magazine. The court of public opinion, observed the Debevoise & Plimpton partner, is “a whole ‘nother setting where your case is being tried.” Several lawyers mentioned the photograph of Michael Jackson dancing on a car roof in front of a courthouse as the epitome of what they never want to see. Such moments may help explain why, more and more, lawyers recognize the value of hiring public relations firms when a case attracts national interest — and the client has the funds. Many attribute this trend to the O.J. Simpson trial and CourtTV, which helped spur the explosion of interest in trials. At the same time, lawyers have become increasingly aware that the media aren’t, as Schofield put it, “user friendly for lawyers who talk like lawyers. They don’t want complicated arguments.” And lawyers don’t necessarily think or talk in sound bites. Even those who are experienced dealing with the press often find they lack the time, knowledge and skill to do so under the double pressure of a grueling trial and a media circus. The challenge these cases present was the subject of a recent panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y in New York. “Representing High-Profile Clients” was moderated by Jeffrey Toobin (CNN legal analyst and New Yorker writer) and featured Schofield; Robert G. Morvillo of New York’s Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg, who represented Martha Stewart in her obstruction trial; Benjamin Brafman of New York’s Brafman & Ross, who represented Sean “P. Diddy” Combs; and William R. “Billy” Martin from the Washington office of Philadelphia’s Blank Rome, whose client was former National Basketball Association star Jayson Williams. During the discussion, and in interviews with these and other lawyers, all agreed that the demands of such trials are very different from those of average cases and easily can overwhelm a lawyer. BRING IN THE CONSULTANTS Sometimes the consultants are the key players. Before he defended Williams, Martin represented Marcia Lewis, the mother of Monica Lewinsky. It was during the time that she was not only besieged by reporters but also threatened with prosecution for withholding evidence, including a certain blue dress. “We did the same thing that any experienced lawyer will do in a high-profile case,” Martin recalled. “You bring in media and PR consultants.” In this instance, Lewis hadn’t been charged with anything. But the investigation was bad enough. The consultants crafted a message “to show mothers that this poor woman has done nothing but try to raise her daughter,” he said. “And if she’s failed, she’s failed. But putting her through the intensity of this criminal investigation is wrong — morally wrong. “That was the strategy,” he said. “And it worked.” Lewis was soon dropped from the investigation. Defending Williams was a far greater challenge. The former New Jersey Net was charged with aggravated manslaughter after what he claimed was the accidental shooting of a limousine driver. He was acquitted of the most serious charges but was convicted of tampering with witnesses and evidence. The jury hung on a reckless manslaughter charge, and he will be retried early next year. Most observers viewed these results as a clear victory for the defense. Martin didn’t meddle in the public relations. He didn’t want the judge holding him responsible, he explained. But he approved of the results. “Somebody made a decision to put Jayson on Barbara Walters. It was very effective. When the jurors came in they all saw a different side of a person who they had heard was a cold-blooded killer.” Not everyone believes in this kind of approach. Pamela R. Mackey, who defended Kobe Bryant against rape accusations and still represents him in the related civil case, said she never has worked with public relations consultants. Nor does she publicly comment on her cases. Press appearances are as often critical as complimentary, she said. “To think that you could orchestrate one that would be complimentary to your client would be presumptuous,” she said. “The lawyer’s job is to defend the client in the courtroom to the very best of their abilities,” she said. “Trying to predict what the press may or may not do, may or may not interpret, may or may not say is very distracting.” Bryant did face the cameras to read prepared statements early in the criminal case and immediately after charges were dropped. In the first, he appeared with his wife at his side and admitted to adultery. In the second, he apologized to the complainant. He did not answer questions, and Mackey will not discuss the case. She does acknowledge that the approach of her firm, Denver’s Haddon, Morgan, Mueller, Jordan, Mackey & Foreman, is unconventional. “I admit we do it differently,” she said. THE TRIAL VS. THE BUSINESS “Very often what was good for Martha as an individual was not good for Martha as a businessperson,” said Morvillo. That tension spanned the length of a case that resulted in Stewart’s conviction in March for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators about a stock trade. Some in her coterie advised early on that she plead guilty for the sake of her business, Morvillo said. Others urged her to fight. While some lawyers argued that she had a strong case on appeal, he said, others agreed that serving her sentence before the decision (as she is doing) was justified by the business need for finality. What he deemed advantageous for both was having Stewart sit for interviews with Barbara Walters and Larry King — with the understanding that she wouldn’t discuss her case. These helped “humanize” her, Morvillo said. Brafman had his own challenges defending Combs. During the 2001 trial in which his client was acquitted of gun possession and bribery charges in connection with a shooting at a Manhattan nightclub, Brafman sometimes had more than 50 phone messages waiting at the end of a day. There was no way he could attend to them and prepare for the next day’s testimony. This was one reason he appreciated the help of consultants. TENSION OVER STRATEGY But these partnerships aren’t always successful. Brafman ruefully admitted that he was on Michael Jackson’s defense team when, following the singer’s arraignment on child molestation charges, Jackson leaped onto his car roof. Brafman was standing nearby, and the act was spontaneous, he said. No one knew in advance, including Jackson, who was motivated by sympathy for fans who had traveled far to see him, the lawyer said. Tension between lawyers and consultants over strategy is not uncommon, Brafman continued. Sometimes he shot down plans by Combs’ people for “a good press day” because it was “bad for the case.” A good press day, he told them, would mean nothing if they lost the trial; a bad press day would be forgotten if they won. “And part of the reason, frankly, that I’m no longer Michael Jackson’s lawyer is I’ve never been a yes man. I call it the way I see it, and sometimes that creates friction.” “Under tight-deadline, high-pressure situations, there is always a challenge in balancing everybody’s needs,” said Scott Sobel, an executive at Levick Strategic Communications who worked on O’Donnell’s case. Often the client has achieved stature by dint of a strong personality, he added, and may not relish taking advice. O’Donnell regularly spoke to reporters during the trial but left comments on the case to her long-time publicist. Schofield focused exclusively on the trial, but a Debevoise associate, Sandra Codben, answered questions from the press on background. The publicist consulted with her when she had legal questions, and also consulted with Levick, which was hired by the law firm to ensure communications between them were privileged. The risks O’Donnell incurred by speaking with the media, however, were minimized not only by her skill, as a member of the media herself, but also by the stakes. Though $100 million was in dispute, Schofield acknowledged that the risks did not compare to those faced by clients whose downside was prison. The big danger, of course, is that what a client says may be used in court. Lawyers typically negotiate ground rules specifying that clients will not discuss their cases, as Morvillo did for Stewart. “I would never put a client out to the media to discuss the facts of a reasonably complex series of events prior to trial,” he said. In a move that surprised many, Michael Ramsey did just that with a client no less celebrated than Ken Lay. The former Enron chairman and CEO is charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with the company’s collapse, and he also faces related civil claims. Yet Ramsey allowed his client to hold a press conference shortly after his indictment was unsealed, and Lay also talked to Larry King. “In my judgment,” the Houston solo practitioner said, “It’s either all the way or nothing.” If a lawyer doesn’t have confidence his client can talk about everything, he shouldn’t talk at all, Ramsey said. He only allowed Lay to do so, Ramsey added, after he’d thoroughly investigated and determined that his client had no criminal exposure. He credited Lay’s civil attorneys at Dallas’ Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal for doing the “heavy lifting” on the investigation. He’s done his own PR on many big cases and knows his local media outlets, Ramsey said. But a case such as Enron “is a different order of magnitude. So you have to use different tools. “And one guy can’t do it all. And one guy shouldn’t have to,” he said. “Particularly when he’s not an expert.”

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