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While an acquittal in a high-profile case is great advertising for most lawyers, it is unclear if that remains true when the lawyer is the one who has been acquitted. Mark Belnick is about to find out. After being found not guilty in one of last year’s most closely watched criminal trials among members of the legal profession, the former Tyco International Ltd. general counsel is returning to practice, this time at his own one-lawyer firm. “There’s something very exciting about hanging up your shingle and seeing what will happen,” Belnick said yesterday in an interview. The Law Offices of Mark A. Belnick, which officially open next week in midtown Manhattan, will focus on the sort of complex commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense work Belnick handled in his many years as a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. But Belnick, 58, also has his more recent experience to draw on. “After all I’ve been through, I’m especially itchy to get back in court as a lawyer, not as someone unjustly accused,” he said. What Belnick went through was a 2 1/2 year prosecution by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which accused him of stealing some $30 million from Tyco in the form of unauthorized bonuses and loans. The case attracted widespread attention among lawyers not only because Belnick, who was first indicted in September 2002, was one of the few general counsels accused of committing a corporate crime but also because of his prominence in the legal community before joining Tyco. At Paul, Weiss, he had been the protege of Arthur Liman, the famed litigator. The prosecution’s theory was that Belnick received the money because he helped Tyco Chairman L. Dennis Kozlowski and Chief Financial Officer Mark Swartz conceal their own thefts of $170 million from the company. Kozlowski and Swartz are being re-tried on grand larceny and other charges after their first trial ended in a mistrial last April. The defense, led by Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson, argued that Belnick earned his high pay by providing the company with top-notch legal work, particularly his handling of a 2000 investigation of the company by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which ended with no charges filed. As part of the defense, Belnick took the stand himself for several days of often emotional testimony in which he described his isolation from both Kozlowski and Swartz as well as from the members of Tyco’s board, many of whom had testified against him. At one point, Belnick broke down on the stand while describing the day in June 2002 when Tyco director John Fort fired him and had him escorted from the company’s New York’s offices. A jury acquitted Belnick on July 15, after five days of deliberation. Though he is clear that much of that experience was unbearable, Belnick also recalls the many former colleagues and clients who expressed support for him during that time. Such kind gestures, including some from former courtroom adversaries, he said, have made him optimistic that he can re-establish himself within the profession. Martin London, a Paul, Weiss partner who attended much of the trial to support Belnick, said he would send business to his former partner if he found the right case. He also said he thought clients would focus on Belnick’s skills as a lawyer, rather than his experience of being a defendant. “My sense is sophisticated clients, the kinds of people who would hire Mark, are not the sort of people who will be put off by the fact that he was indicted, especially since he was acquitted,” said London. Belnick said he is already doing some consulting work for a couple of corporate clients but he said his travails at the hands of prosecutors have also “whetted his appetite” to represent defendants who are being “unjustly victimized, either civilly or criminally.” If such cases were to come to him, Belnick said, he would happily reduce or possibly even waive his fees if necessary. He said the attacks and “bullying” he suffered from prosecutors left him with a new appreciation for how lawyers should conduct themselves. “Those kinds of accusations were false and were contrary to everything I’ve lived by as a lawyer,” he said. John Moscow, the prosecutor who went after Belnick, subjecting him to days of intense cross-examination, himself recently left the district attorney’s office to join a small defense firm. Belnick said he would not comment on Moscow or his plans. Moscow likewise declined to comment. But Belnick heaped praise on the lawyers who defended him. Besides Weingarten, who yesterday conducted direct examination of his present client, former WorldCom Chairman Bernard Ebbers, Belnick’s defense team included Mark Hulkower, another Steptoe partner, and Robert Katzberg of New York’s Kaplan & Katzberg. “Having sat as a client to wonderful lawyers, I feel I learned so much about client service,” he said, adding, “It’s not the way I would have chosen to learn.” Katzberg said yesterday he expects Belnick to meet with great success. “He’s gained a unique perspective that can only help him with clients,” he said. Belnick said he has been preoccupied with launching his firm and has given little thought to the ongoing trial of Kozlowski and Swartz. He said he has not been contacted about testifying in the case. The former general counsel is still facing civil litigation from Tyco, which also claims he took company money without authorization. He is in turn suing them, seeking indemnification of his legal expenses. Though Belnick declined to state what those expenses were, he acknowledged such defenses are expensive to mount and said that, despite his large Tyco pay packages, his return to practice is partly motivated by financial considerations. But he said his situation is such that he will be able to take cases in which he is interested rather than any case that comes in the door. In addition, Belnick, who said he thought about leaving Tyco to pursue teaching full time, will continue to head Cornell University’s summer pre-law program. Opening his own firm does mean Belnick will have less time to spend in Utah. He took company loans he was later accused of stealing to buy an apartment on Central Park West and a large house in Park City, Utah. Belnick said he and his wife Randy are making New York their main residence again, though they hope to get out west as often as possible. Belnick said he hopes that his firm will expand to the point where he can bring aboard other lawyers, though he would like to keep the firm below five lawyers. “I want to see how I do in a boutique environment,” he said. One immediate challenge, he said, has been dealing with the sorts of things that lawyers at big firms take for granted, like office supplies and billing. “A stapler doesn’t appear automatically,” he said. “You have to order it. I guess I’ll have to learn these things.” Anthony Lin is a reporter with New York Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate publication.

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