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Reid H. Weingarten’s specialty is high-stakes, white-collar criminal defense. Mark Belnick, former general counsel of Tyco International Ltd., and Bernard Ebbers, former chief executive of WorldCom Inc., are among the executives who have put him on speed dial when they’ve found themselves in hot water. Yet last year, the Steptoe & Johnson partner took an atypical client: a 22-year-old U.S. Navy Academy midshipman � a former star quarterback of the Navy’s football team � charged with sexually assaulting a classmate. Weingarten, 57, hadn’t handled a rape case since his early days as a prosecutor. He had never before appeared at a military court martial. None of that mattered. Lamar Owens was acquitted and spared a prison sentence, though he was found guilty on two lesser counts. U.S. v. Lamar S. Owens Jr., MIDN 1/C, USN (Dept. of the Navy, Gen. Ct. Martial, Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary, N. Judicial Circuit). Weingarten said he felt strongly from his first meeting with Owens that he wanted to represent a man he describes as “spiritual, charismatic, sweet” � and innocent. That initial meeting was requested by John E. Nolan, a senior Steptoe partner who is a Naval Academy alumnus and general counsel of the Naval Academy Foundation. The sexual encounter at issue occurred on Jan. 29, 2006, after Owens and his accuser had been out drinking separately. The woman claimed Owens entered her dormitory room while she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her. He contended that he visited her after she sent him instant messages inviting him in. They began to have consensual sex, but the woman quickly passed out, Owens testified. He halted when he realized she was unresponsive, left the room and called her friend. In a later call, he expressed contrition for the encounter, which the prosecution contended was a confession of rape. The defense said Owens was apologizing for the awkward twist the sexual encounter took. While investigating the accuser’s background, Weingarten found a history of blackouts caused by binge drinking. He also emphasized the volley of instant messages, calling a forensic expert to testify that they had been erased from the woman’s computer. ‘Gentlemanly’ approach The accuser’s story was full of holes, but Weingarten avoided a withering cross-examination. “I decided to be as loving, embracing and gentlemanly with the victim as possible, because that’s how Lamar was,” he said. The six-hour cross elicited testimony that the accuser’s frequent drinking binges impaired her memory. “It was not very difficult to build up the night in question in a way that made her credibility questionable,” Weingarten said. In contrast, his client “never missed a beat. He was composed, dignified and smart . . . despite the fact that she’d ruined his life.” Weingarten wowed the trial judge, Cmdr. John Maksym, who said the defense “eviscerated the alleged victim during cross-examination,” The Baltimore Sunreported. A spokeswoman for the office of the judge advocate general of the Navy said the office had no comment.
TRIAL TIPS • Present the trial like a good story. • Develop the human side of the case. • Illustrate the case with graphics.

The five-person jury deliberated 10 hours before acquitting Owens on the rape charge, but he was convicted of conduct unbecoming to an officer � for having sex in a Naval Academy dormitory � and failing to obey a lawful order, for inadvertently and briefly violating a restraining order. The jury recommended no punishment, but Owens was expelled from the Academy, denied a military commission and ordered to repay about $90,000 in tuition. Each night during the trial, Weingarten switched gears and spent a few hours preparing his defense of a Washington real estate developer accused of trying to bribe a District of Columbia government official. Douglas Jemal’s trial began a week after Owens’ trial ended. U.S. v. Douglas Jemal, No. 05-0359 (RMU) (D.D.C.). Weingarten credits an ability to compartmentalize. “When I’m in trial, I don’t eat, sleep or make love,” he says with a chuckle. “I drink coffee and bourbon.” In the Jemalcase, he spent a day and a half beating down a key prosecution witness who claimed he had received cash bribes from the defendant. Jemal was acquitted on all bribery and conspiracy charges. He received probation and a fine for a conviction on a lesser charge. Weingarten tried that case with Steptoe & Johnson partner Brian M. Heberlig, who also worked with him on the Owenscase.

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