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Fans of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick say he has never had enough premier players around him. That was not the case today, when legal proceedings against him began in a federal courthouse in Richmond. Vick is charged with participating in an illegal dogfighting enterprise called Bad Newz Kennels. Vick and his three alleged co-conspirators face up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and full restitution if convicted of sponsoring dog fights. They are also accused of killing dogs that lost matches. At Vick’s arraignment, U.S. district court judge Henry Hudson set a Nov. 26 trial date. For legal help, the quarterback initially turned to longtime counsel Lawrence Woodward, Jr., from 15-lawyer Shuttleworth, Ruloff, Swain, Haddad & Morecock in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Woodward’s firm has experience representing professional athletes from the Hampton Roads region, including Denver Nuggets guard Allen Iverson, and Vick’s own brother, Marcus, who briefly played for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Vick then retained William Martin, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and head of the firm’s white-collar criminal defense practice. (Martin was formerly with Blank Rome.) Martin has a stable of superstar clients of his own, having represented former New Jersey Nets forward Jayson Williams in his acquittal on aggravated manslaughter charges in 2004, as well as television personality Jerry Springer and basketball players Juwan Howard and Chris Webber. Another lawyer contacted about joining Vick’s legal team was Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr litigator Ronald Machen, according to knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity. Machen honed his trial skills on homicides and public corruption cases while an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C., and he has football experience to boot, having played while an undergraduate at Stanford University. He was named by The American Lawyer as one of its Fab Fifty Young Litigators in January. Machen declined to comment. Vick will be battling the conspiracy charge in a federal district court with a “rocket docket” reputation. “Judges in the district pride themselves on getting cases to trial quickly,” says Roscoe Howard, Jr., a partner at Troutman Sanders in Washington, D.C., who served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia in the late eighties and was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 2001 to 2004. Howard says document review in the case figures to be light, with the government’s case likely to hinge on physical evidence like dog carcasses and perhaps a film of the search executed on property located at 1915 Moonlight Road near Smithfield, Virginia. Other challenges facing Vick are a judge with a lengthy law enforcement background. “[Hudson] expected you to be tough,” says Howard, who worked for Hudson when he was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “He was an aggressive prosecutor, and one of the things Vick has to worry about is that [Hudson] is a hunter, so he likes dogs.” Adds University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias: “He does have a reputation as being tough on sentencing, and he sometimes exceeds the guidelines.” Vick will also be playing in an unfriendly forum. “I think from a defendant’s standpoint it’s not a good jury pool,” says Howard. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has ordered Vick not to report to Falcons training camp, which officially opens a half hour before today’s 3:30 P.M. bond hearing and subsequent arraignment. The NFL has opened its own investigation, led by Eric Holder, Jr., former deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration and a litigation partner with the league’s outside counsel at Covington & Burling. Unlike his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, who also was a partner at Covington, Goodell is not a lawyer. (He does have an Am Law 100 connection: His brother, Timothy, is global cohead of M&A at White & Case in New York.) Howard thinks that Vick’s trial could turn ugly. “You’re going to see pictures of carcasses and all that stuff, that’s what [prosecutors] do, they try to piss juries off,” Howard adds. “If you’re sitting there representing Michael Vick, and you’re winning motions while this stuff is spread across the front page of newspapers around the world, you’ll be thinking to yourself, �I’m winning?’”
Brian Baxter is a reporter for The American Lawyer , an ALM publication. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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