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When you start inquiring of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, “Who should be included on a list of the top white-collar defense lawyers in Washington, D.C.?” the one name that appears on every short-list is Earl Silbert. Silbert, 69, a partner at DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, is regarded as the dean of the D.C. white-collar defense bar. His fellow trial lawyers don’t hesitate to pile on the praise. “Most trial lawyers are guys with large personalities and egos to match,” says Henry “Hank” Schuelke III, a partner at Janis, Schuelke & Wechsler. “But Earl is in a class by himself, with complete integrity and not a whit of ego.” “He has great judgment and is a truly brilliant strategist,” notes Carl Rauh, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Silbert has been a mentor to many in the local trial bar. “We still call him ‘The Godfather,’ as a term of respect, because he is the only guy we would all go to the mats to defend,” says Richard Beizer, a partner at Crowell & Moring. But sometimes too much praise can sound like a eulogy � a bit of the old “he once was great.” In the case of Silbert, that would be his opponent’s profound mistake. Enron’s Kenneth Lay turned to Silbert when he needed a robust dose of public integrity and a sage guide to help see him through congressional and Justice Department inquiries. As Roger Zuckerman of Zuckerman Spaeder describes Silbert: “He evinces a kind of rectitude, a powerful sense of propriety and correctness, a sense of what fundamental justice requires. There are times when the client needs that quality of absolute rectitude, because the client’s adversary needs to be confronted with that.” Were Lay’s trial unfolding in Washington today, rather than in Houston, some add that Silbert would likely have led the trial team. Other troubled executives have similarly sought Silbert’s counsel in recent years, including Northrop Grumman lawyers caught up in a lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, and two former executives of Westar Energy, who were convicted of bank fraud and attempting to loot the corporation. But, as Silbert points out, “most of the matters I have in the white-collar area are during the investigative stage and frequently in front of grand juries, so they are protected by grand jury secrecy. And those that are not, well, publicizing these matters is not going to serve to benefit a client.” Silbert’s reputation was established during his tenure as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia during the Watergate years 1973 to 1979. He also has served as president of the American College of Trial Lawyers and president of the National Association of Former United States Attorneys. And he’s made lists of leading lawyers many times before. But he was recently kicked off perhaps the most interesting of short-lists. When former top FBI official W. Mark Felt stepped forward to claim his rightful title as Watergate’s Deep Throat, it ended some persistent speculation that Silbert might have been Bob Woodward’s special source.

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