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Beth A. Wilkinson had an unusual start for a litigator: She joined the Army after finishing law school. Wilkinson spent her undergraduate years at Princeton University on a four-year ROTC scholarship, and when she graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1987, she still owed the Army four years. She spent that time in the office of the Army’s general counsel, rising to the rank of captain. While there, she was involved in special operations and national security, but did no trial work. Toward the end of her tenure in the Army, she was assigned as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida to handle a bank robbery prosecution and two drug cases. And that’s when she got hooked. She came back to the Pentagon to finish out her four-year term, then became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York. At first, Wilkinson did the run-of-the-mill cases: drugs, immigration, small fraud matters, some bank robbery prosecutions. But when she moved into the narcotics unit, she became involved in the prosecution of a lieutenant of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The defendant, Dandeny Munoz Mosquera, was charged with RICO and drug law violations and killing U.S. citizens abroad, Wilkinson says. The first trial ended in a hung jury. In 1995, Munoz was convicted on multiple counts in the second trial and received 10 life sentences. Wilkinson was co-lead counsel in the trials, and she, along with the trial’s lead counsel, received the U.S. attorney general’s highest commendation, the Exceptional Service Award, for this prosecution. That case was a minor matter compared to her next trials. Wilkinson was one of the lead prosecutors in the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing case. She was responsible for discovery before the trials, the presentation of numerous major witnesses and jury selection; she also handled the forensic evidence and presentation of all major expert witnesses. For the McVeigh trial, she delivered the death penalty summation. For the Nichols trial, she delivered the summations before the conviction and the sentencing. Each of the four primary prosecutors in these trials received the Exceptional Service Award. Wilkinson is the only attorney in history to receive this award twice. In September 1998, Wilkinson joined the Washington, D.C., office of Latham & Watkins in its white-collar crime group. She has already gained national attention for her work there. She represented the Salt Lake City Olympic organizing committee in the investigations by the Department of Justice and the Utah attorney general of bribery charges in connection with the award of the 2002 Winter Olympics. The committee was not indicted; all charges were dismissed against the individual defendants. She is representing Ford Motor Co.’s board of directors in the Firestone tire recall matter. She also represents General Electric Co. in consumer class actions. Her experience as a federal prosecutor left her with definite advantages over other litigators in law firms, she says. “I had tried a large number of cases and I had gone against some of the biggest, most talented defense attorneys in the country.” As a prosecutor, “I learned how to assess a case, its strengths and weaknesses.” She also gained experience in handling long trials. In her biggest case so far in private practice, Wilkinson defended Columbia/HCA in a breach-of-contract claim brought by Florida Software Systems and related entities. The plaintiffs filed two suits, one in federal and one in state court; they sought $2 billion in the federal action and $160 million in the other. HCA filed counterclaims for fraud and RICO. The state action went to trial first. As she introduced evidence supporting HCA’s contention, she says, the settlement demands from Florida Software kept coming down. Ultimately, she says, “they settled for zero and paid us $1 each on the counterclaims.” What she learned as a prosecutor was integral to winning. “We worked hard at streamlining. Having tried a lot of cases, I learned you have to present only the most compelling facts.”

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