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LAWYER JOINS EBBERS ON THE HOT SEAT Should Bernard Ebbers have testified? That’s the question that may haunt Steptoe & Johnson‘s Reid Weingarten should his client, the former WorldCom CEO, be convicted on charges of directing the company’s $11 billion accounting fraud. On his first day on the stand last week, Ebbers first was self-assured as he denied that he knew of the illegal accounting moves made by his CFO, Scott Sullivan. But during a tension-filled cross-examination, Ebbers, 63, appeared tired and lost at times when confronted with documents detailing the fraud, a change noted by the government in its closing argument. “Ebbers was a different person on cross-examination,” William Johnson, an assistant U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York, told the jury. What is not clear is whether Weingarten advised Ebbers to testify or whether Ebbers pushed to take the stand. White collar defense attorneys say big-shot defendants such as Ebbers — who are used to getting their way — often want to testify even when their attorneys counsel against it. “If they don’t testify and they’re found guilty, they’re going to be sitting in their jail cell wishing they’d told their side,” says W. Neil Eggleston of Howrey Simon Arnold & White. But the decision to testify likely will make the jury’s verdict a referendum on Ebbers’ time on the stand. “If a defendant testifies, you change the whole dynamic of the trial,” says Barry Coburn of D.C.’s Coburn & Schertler. “Though a jury is told to weigh all evidence equally, the defense testimony takes center stage.” Recent case history on the subject is mixed. Jurors said that investment banker Frank Quattrone‘s evasive testimony spoiled his chances for acquittal in his first trial in late 2003, which ended in a hung jury. In the retrial, Quattrone took the stand and was found guilty. However, former Tyco GC Mark Belnick, also a Weingarten client, testified in his fraud trial last year. Belnick was acquitted. — Jason McLure, Legal Times, and Michael Bobelian, New York Law Journal SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM The federal bench was shaken last week by the murder of a federal judge’s family members in Chicago and the possibility that Judge Joan Lefkow was targeted by someone upset over a ruling in one of her cases. It’s thrown the safety of federal judges and their families into the spotlight. Some federal judges have called for limiting the amount of private information about them available on the Internet and elsewhere. Others say it’s a stark reminder of the violent individuals whose cases the judges preside over. “It’s not something you dwell on, but the reality is there,” says U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of D.C.’s federal court. “There’s a lot of individuals in today’s world who will do everything and anything not to be held culpable.” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking the DOJ to re-evaluate its security measures for the federal bench. “It has definitely shaken up things around here,” says David Sacks, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, which protects judges. Sacks says it’s too early to tell what changes, if any, could prevent such incidents. — Tom Schoenberg FINDING A HOME It’s likely that if former President Bill Clinton is ever back in the market for a local lawyer, he won’t look to Venable. Last week, the firm landed Asa Hutchinson, who recently stepped down as an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Hutchinson’s move to Venable, where he’ll head the firm’s homeland security practice, stemmed from a lunch set up by former Rep. James Rogan (R-Calif.), now a partner at the firm. In 1999, Rogan and Hutchinson, then an Arkansas congressman, helped make the House’s case against Clinton in his Senate trial. Hutchinson, who was passed over to replace Tom Ridge as Homeland Security chief, says he turned aside offers from other D.C. firms because Venable has a “tremendous homeland security practice.” He’ll split his time between D.C. and Arkansas while he mulls a 2006 run for governor of his home state. — Jason McLure SINGULAR HONOR A litigator by training, Brigida Benitez is used to being in the spotlight. But these days, the Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner is snagging attention outside of the courthouse. Hispanic Business magazine’s April edition will feature her as one of the top Hispanic women in the country. And last week, WUSA Channel 9 highlighted her community work as part of a piece recognizing local leaders for Women’s History Month. “It was certainly a very nice honor,” she says. Benitez, 36, arrived at Wilmer 11 years ago and was the first — and only — Hispanic to make partner at the 1,100-attorney firm. Over the years, Benitez has represented major companies like Citigroup and Pulitzer Inc. In 2003, she second-chaired the University of Michigan’s two Supreme Court cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, representing the school. And she just finished a term as head of the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. Although she’s proud of her achievements, Benitez says, “there are still too few women and minorities at the top of the legal profession.” — Emma Schwartz JUSTICE’S PRICE When Congress and the Supreme Court tinker with the legal system, the judiciary is left shouldering the costs. At the request of the Judicial Conference, President George W. Bush has asked Congress to set aside more than $100 million extra for federal courts this year to deal with the class action reform bill passed last month by Congress and the sentencing guideline changes wrought by the Supreme Court in January’s Booker and Fanfan rulings. “Both of these changes are court-intensive,” says Judge Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, who chairs the conference’s executive committee. “We’re not complaining. It’s our job.” Federal courts are seeing a wave of appeals from defendants now that the high court has made sentencing guidelines nonmandatory. District and appeals courts would get $30 million, and defender services would receive another $60 million, for the estimated 12,000 to 18,000 new appeals. Another $10 million would go to federal courts for the estimated 300 class actions that will transfer from state courts as a result of the class action reform law. — Tony Mauro BREAKING THE CHAIN Shackled with leg irons and a belly chain, Carman Deck was sentenced to death for the second time by a Missouri jury in 2003. Lawyers in Deck v. Missouri argued before the Supreme Court on March 1 over whether the shackling violated Deck’s right to a fair trial. Deck, convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 for two murders, was shackled for his second sentencing hearing after he won an appeal on his first death sentence. The Court has held that shackling a defendant during the guilt phase of a trial is an “inherently prejudicial practice.” Rosemary Percival, a Kansas City assistant public defender representing Deck, asked that the Court extend its ruling to the sentencing phase. The shackles “make the defendant appear dangerous, violent, and untrustworthy,” Percival said. Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether the shackles in fact might be an advantage for the defendant, playfully suggesting that the appearance of a defendant in a nice suit and smiling might be more prejudicial. Defending the practice, Missouri Assistant Attorney General Cheryl Nield emphasized that Deck had already been convicted of murder. “By definition, he was a dangerous individual,” she said. — Marya Lucas ACCESS PANEL Equal access to justice for the more than 110,000 D.C. residents who live in poverty is an age-old issue, but now a new commission comprising judges, attorneys, and members of the community is searching to find viable solutions to the chronic problem. The mission of the new Access to Justice Commission is to examine every aspect of the legal process and find ways to make the system easier to navigate and understand; help legal service providers find ways to coordinate and share resources; and find additional sources of funding to increase the number of full-time legal service providers in D.C. “Everything is on the table,” says Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor and chairman of the 17-member commission. In the past, says Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society and a commission member, the pro bono community addressed parts of the problem, but those efforts “didn’t get to the core set of issues.” The new commission, he says, will place the responsibility for the whole problem in one body that has the clout to get it done. — Bethany Broida BLOCHED ARTERY Special Counsel Scott Bloch last week was accused of engaging in prohibited personnel practices and violating civil service laws by a group of his employees and four public interest groups. The complaint, which under federal law had to be filed with Bloch’s own Office of Special Counsel, charges that Bloch embarked on a campaign to intimidate and marginalize staff members who questioned his initiatives and refused to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The complainants asked that the investigation be turned over to an independent agency for investigation, something the office agreed to do. In a statement, Cathy Deeds, a spokeswoman for the office, called the allegations “false.” The matter will be sent to the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which addresses federal agency abuse. — Bethany Broida MILLION-DOLLAR BABIES D.C. personal injury lawyers and boxing enthusiasts Wayne Cohen and Roger Gelb thought it would be fun to fight one another in the backyard of Cohen’s Potomac, Md., home last month. Insert lawyer joke here. “We always yap about who could beat the other one,” says the 38-year-old, 175-pound Cohen, adding that he has a traditional boxing style, while Gelb, 39 and 220 pounds, uses self-defense techniques — i.e., his elbows and arms. Gelb says the two square off a couple of times a year. About a half hour into the match, Gelb put forward an elbow to block a blow from Cohen when he heard something snap. Gelb says he continued to fight despite the pain, in part because Cohen was egging him on. The next day, Gelb went to his doctor, who told him he tore his tricep tendon. One surgery and lengthy cast later, Gelb was walking through a house he is renovating when he tripped and landed squarely on the busted arm. Insert another lawyer joke here. It means no rematch for at least five months. — Tom Schoenberg

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