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John Hemann’s first trial was not auspicious — a slip-and-fall case at a military supermarket in 1996. But he won, and has since run up an impressive string of trial victories using a low-key courtroom style that reflects his Ohio roots. Many young lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco enjoy fantastic reputations, but if it’s trial experience you want, it’s hard to beat Hemann. The key to success, according to the securities fraud prosecutor, is to respect the jury and simplify the case. If he can compare the allegation to something that could happen with his own bank account, he says, it will be compelling to a jury. If not, it won’t fly. “I look at the way a normal person would look at it, not as an expert in finance,” he says. Hemann enjoys a reputation for prudence. Defense lawyers say he doesn’t overcharge cases, seeing their strengths and weaknesses clearly. And the trust his superiors place in him is evident. “John has never shied away from tough or complicated cases, and he was clearly one of the go-to criminal prosecutors when I supervised him in the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” says David Shapiro, the criminal section chief under former U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller, who is now director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Shapiro is currently at Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Hemann’s legal pedigree is clear enough. His mother is a U.S. magistrate in Ohio, and he received his J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He also clerked for a federal judge in Sacramento, Calif. He went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995 after a year in the litigation department of Palo Alto, Calif.’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a firm that would go on to ride the crest of the high-tech wave for much of the late ’90s. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, by contrast, was in the doldrums at that time. It made Hemann’s move look like a mistake. But after Mueller took over, the office’s reputation soared. And so did Hemann’s career. Hemann’s first high-profile case was the prosecution of officials at the San Francisco Housing Authority for selling federal rent subsidy chits. The case was followed closely because the government’s star witness (who pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts) was the goddaughter of Mayor Willie Brown. Since then, Hemann has won convictions against the mayor of East Palo Alto (for taking bribes), a partner of Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May (for insider trading), and, increasingly, securities fraud defendants. Hemann was asked to join Mueller’s vaunted securities fraud unit by Leslie Caldwell, whom Hemann credits with his adroitness at complex fraud prosecution. Caldwell was later tapped to head the government’s investigation into Enron Corp., and Hemann was given one of her cases — the indictment of several former executives of HBO & Co. who allegedly manipulated company books before a merger with health care giant McKesson Corporation. Lately Hemann has won convictions against two different top corporate executives (including one whose trial had resulted in a hung jury when former criminal chief Shapiro handled it). He also won six convictions of employees at NVIDIA Corporation for insider trading, following a companywide notice announcing a contract to provide Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox processor. Problem was, the announcement wasn’t publicly made until a week later. Hemann is married to another prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office (they have two children), but says he’s no lifer. He says he’d eventually like to help companies conduct internal investigations, dealing with regulators, plaintiffs’ lawyers and even prosecutors when things go wrong. His work on the securities fraud side has certainly won him the kind of plaudits that would make that move easier. Says Cristina Arguedas, a criminal defense lawyer who has crossed paths with Hemann many times: “He was winning these cases before the Enron environment.” Jason Hoppin is a reporter at The Recorder.

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