Lawyer William G. Hundley, 80

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

William G. Hundley, 80, a former Justice Department prosecutor who became a criminal defense lawyer specializing in white-collar Washingtonians in trouble, died June 11 at his home in Vienna. He had liver cancer.

Mr. Hundley first rose to prominence while prosecuting underworld and racketeering figures during the 1950s and 1960s. He once helped persuade loan shark and narcotics dealer Joseph Valachi to become the first person to describe in detail the leadership structure and inner workings of the mafia.

In private practice, his partners included at various times eminent lawyers Plato Cacheris and Robert S. Strauss. Mr. Hundley said he was "much more comfortable keeping people out of jail than putting them in" and developed a fondness for many of his clients.

His clients included former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, convicted of obstruction of justice for his role in the Watergate affair; flamboyant South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, for whom he won immunity on a congressional bribery matter; and Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a lawyer and confidant of President Clinton's who successfully fought coverup charges stemming from the president's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

In recent months, he was principal counsel for Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a former Central Intelligence Agency executive director who is being investigated in connection with a criminal probe into allegations of government corruption and bribery.

Mr. Hundley had a disarming, often jocular courtroom demeanor that became a trademark. During the Watergate trials, U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica ordered spectators not to laugh when the White House tapes were being played. After a portion of the tape proved damaging to Mitchell, his client, Mr. Hundley raised his hand and asked, "Judge, how do you feel about crying?"

Over the years, he won an acquittal for Gulf Oil lobbyist Claude Wild Jr., who was accused of making illegal payments to congressmen, and got charges dismissed against junk bond trader Warren Trepp, a key figure in the Securities and Exchange Commission's insider trading case against Michael Milken. He was not as successful with one client, former West Virginia Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., who was convicted of corruption charges.

He also represented W. Dale Hess, a former aide to Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, as well as Mandel on a series of legal troubles and convicted Maryland savings and loan swindler Jeffrey A. Levitt.

"Most of the people that I've represented have had some problems," Mr. Hundley told a publication of the D.C. Bar in 2001. "I've won some. I've won more than my share. It's a great feeling. But you don't win that much, and you don't always win on the merits. You win on technicalities, statute of limitations, and things like that."

William George Hundley was born Aug. 16, 1925, in Pittsburgh and was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he came from a family of engineers. During World War II, he served in the Army, participated in the Battle of the Bulge and received the Bronze Star. He graduated in 1950 from Fordham University law school in New York and went to work for the Justice Department's internal security division.

He remembered the internal security division mostly for what he saw as its farcical elements, telling the D.C. Bar publication that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover largely kept the domestic communist movement alive because "his informants were nearly the only ones that paid the party dues."

Reading the informant reports, he said, "I came across a line where a guy jumped up and said, 'Let's cut out all the bull. When are we going to start the revolution?' I got excited and ran to the FBI supervisor. All the agents had a big huddle, and they came back and said, 'Well, you can't use that. That's one of our informants.' "

In 1958, he was named chief of the organized crime and racketeering section. He had a high-profile success with the 1961 conviction of New York Supreme Court Justice J. Vincent Keogh for attempting to illegally influence a federal judge on a bankruptcy fraud case.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy became Mr. Hundley's boss, and they had a workable but wary relationship. Mr. Hundley said he repeatedly clashed with the attorney general over his aggressive pursuit of certain figures, such as Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa, without sufficient proof of crime.

He also said he started caring more about the fates of his "finks" than many others at the Justice Department.

"When Valachi decided to cooperate, I became his gumba," he told a reporter. "We'd put dark glasses and wigs on him and take him to the Roma restaurant. He was a hell of a guy. . . . My days with Valachi convinced me that the Cosa Nostra was the most overrated thing since the Communist Party."

By 1966, with several children to support, Mr. Hundley began seeking more lucrative work in private practice. Through his friendship with criminal defense lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who also owned the Washington Redskins, Mr. Hundley became special assistant to Pete Rozelle, the National Football League commissioner. At the NFL, Mr. Hundley's chief responsibility was to prevent gambling scandals.

Mr. Hundley also set up a private practice with Cacheris, a former Justice colleague. They relied heavily on Williams's overflow of clients at a time when major law firms shunned criminal work.

The Mitchell case proved a major break. Mr. Hundley described Mitchell as "a standup guy." Mitchell's wife, Martha, became his biggest worry because she wanted her husband to blame Richard Nixon for everything -- which worked against Mr. Hundley's legal strategy.

That forced Mr. Hundley to find innovative ways to keep Martha Mitchell out of town at pivotal moments during the court proceedings.

Mr. Hundley and Cacheris amicably dissolved their firm in the late 1980s, and Mr. Hundley was lured to Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. He was admired by colleagues for his fast and accurate evaluation of a client's honesty.

While working on an international criminal case, he stepped away from the client, pulled aside two younger partners and whispered, "Before we get started, can either of you tell me how we're gonna know when this guy is lying to us?" After a moment, he answered his own question: "His lips will be moving."

His wife of 46 years, Roberta Inglis "Bobbie" Hundley, died in 2005.

Survivors include six children, William G. Hundley of Culpeper, Va., Barbara Ruffino of Alexandria, John Hundley of Centreville, Richard Hundley of Bethany Beach, Del., and Mary Maddox and James Hundley, both of Reston; a brother; and 12 grandchildren.

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