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He represented a young woman who killed her husband by repeatedly ramming his truck and finally hurtling the vehicle off the road and into a tree. She was sentenced to one year in jail. He got a cop off with a $500 fine for shooting and killing Franky, a cocker spaniel, who was running loose in the officer’s yard. And today, Rodney Leffler will be standing next to his client, Jonathan Taylor Spielberg, the 27-year-old who claimed to be director Steven Spielberg’s nephew and now faces fraud and forgery charges. “If you’ve got the money to spend, he’s the one you hire,” says one Fairfax, Va.-based defense attorney. As a result, Leffler has built up quite a circle of clients. The former cop-turned-lawyer is the first contact for every Fairfax police officer who finds himself in a bind. He’s also regular counsel to the Fairfax County Police Association and the Fairfax County Retired Police Officers Association. Perhaps the greatest testament to his skills is that other lawyers turn to him when in trouble. On his client roster: Jane Wagner, the Cooley Godward associate in Reston, Va., who allegedly struck and killed a Great Falls, Va., teen-ager while driving on Route 7 earlier this spring. She has not been indicted. More than six feet tall with a penchant for handmade suits, Leffler, 48, is not one of those trial lawyers with a sartorial shtick, the ones who affect a disheveled “Everyman” look to connect with jurors. He’s fond of imitating John Wayne, his favorite movie star, but not in the courtroom. “I think he’s at his calmest when he’s at trial,” says his partner Timothy Hyland. “He goes in very well-prepared and believes that on any given day he can match whomever he’s up against.” POLICE ACTION That may be because Leffler has inhabited almost every corner of the local justice system. A former police officer and county prosecutor, Leffler has also served as a substitute judge since 1984. Raised on a farm in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Leffler graduated from Penn State in 1973 with a low draft number and the intention of going to Vietnam. The draft ended, however, before he was called up. At the time, police departments around the country were visiting college campuses recruiting students in an effort to transform the departments into more professional organizations. Leffler and a friend moved to Fairfax together and applied. “The pay was relatively good-$9,000 a year,” Leffler laughs. “But we were out there to save the world.” The original plan was to work on the force for a year and save money for law school. Plans change. After two years at the department, he decided to implement the second phase of his original plan. He started attending night classes at what was then the International School of Law, now George Mason University School of Law. It was a harried schedule. He was doing shift work on the force, rotating among the midnight, day, and evening shifts. Classes fell either before or after work, depending on his schedule. Apparently that wasn’t enough to juggle. Leffler took on the additional roles of clerk to Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan Jr. and husband to Jill, his college sweetheart. By 1979, he was a prosecutor. Criminal work had never been his focus, Leffler says. “I took business and tax courses, but then [Horan] offered me a job about a year before I graduated.” He stayed with the prosecutor’s office for a little more than two years and moved into private practice at Fairfax’s Odin, Feldman & Pittleman. In 1993, Leffler was head of the firm’s litigation practice, but wanted to strike out on his own. He and Hyland, also an Odin, Feldman partner, set up shop. “Hyland is the brains. I’m the trial horse,” Leffler says. This spring, they hired their first associate. Today about 60 percent of Leffler’s work is criminal. The balance is taken up by professional legal and medical malpractice defense — Inova Hospital is a client –.and other civil litigation. Last year, he chaired the Criminal Law Section of the Virginia State Bar and was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers as a fellow. “One reason that I try a fair number of civil cases is that what keeps me going is the fear,” Leffler says. “I try to do different kinds of cases because the fear in doing something new motivates me to do a better job.” Back when they were both in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, he and William Schewe shared what they called a “suite.” It was actually two eight-foot-by-eight-foot rooms with a door in between. It was a different kind of county and a different courthouse then. There were only seven or so attorneys in Horan’s office and about 300,000 people in the county. The jail abutted the courthouse and prosecutors were frequently harangued by the inmates whose windows looked over the staff parking lot. “It was the best job I ever had,” Leffler says. Although Leffler is sometimes described as being rigidly no-nonsense or taciturn, his colleagues from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney describe him as a storyteller who loves to entertain the crowd. Lewis Morris Jr., now staff counsel for the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. in Alexandria, Va., recalls a night when a few of the assistant county attorneys snuck into the courthouse after hours. In those days, the staff keys could open the backdoor to the courthouse. “We held a mock trial of someone who was accused of some impropriety,” Morris says. “I was the court-appointed attorney. Rod pretended to be Judge Barney Jennings.” Jennings had a reputation for unintelligible mumblings. “Rod put on Jennings’ robe and got up there and mumbled into the mike and did a perfect imitation,” Morris says. Leffler’s tour as a cop may be at the root of his irreverence. “I think it gave him a sense of humor,” Hyland says. Leffler downplays what effect his time on the police force may have on his current profession. Yet he says that, unlike many lawyers, he has an understanding of what police officers face on the job. “It’s sometimes 10 to 12 hours of boredom, followed by an explosive adrenaline rush,” he says. “A police officer can go his or her entire career and never be prepared for the split second that changes their lives and their careers.” Schewe, his cohort from the CA’s office, notes that while a police officer, Leffler “saw a lot of stuff that wasn’t pretty.” But that experience was good preparation for criminal work. “You lose your sense of humor in this business, and you’ll find yourself in the loony bin.” PREP MAN In the courtroom, though, Leffler is all business. With a catalog of criminal case law committed to memory –.a residual effect of teaching at the police academy for five years — Leffler’s hallmark is meticulous preparation, say attorneys who have faced him in court. Unlike most litigators, Leffler tends to work without co-counsel. “He’s a straight shooter who represents his clients very, very well,” says Jerry Boykin, a partner in McLean, Va.’s The Jefferson Law Firm. “A lot of people, you can’t necessarily trust their word. If [Leffler] tells you he’s going to do something, he does it.” For every hour of cross-examination, Leffler says, he spends at least six preparing. It’s not just the fear that motivates him, it’s the weight of responsibility. “The more you do, the more the judges expect of you, and the more you expect of yourself,” he says. He also likes to prep his juries. For Leffler, voir dire is a form of opening statement. “He uses it as a good opportunity to inform the jurors of what is coming up in the case,” Hyland says. Leffler says he’s always ready to try a case. But he adds that he chooses his clients carefully. Take, for example, Jane Wagner, the Cooley lawyer whose car struck a Great Falls teen-ager. “You feel so sorry for everyone involved,” Leffler says, “that it’s a case that cries out for someone to step in and see if you can help out.” He says that his varied roles in the corridors of justice over the years “gave me a healthy respect for the system,” adding, “If everyone does his or her duty to the best of his or her ability then justice will get done. “But when one role is played less adequately, the system doesn’t work.”

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