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Ted Wells, Center Of the Defense

An artist's sketch of Ted Wells at work during the Scooter Libby trial.
An artist's sketch of Ted Wells at work during the Scooter Libby trial. (By Dana Verkouteren -- Associated Press)

Wells would not sit for an interview for this story. But through conversations and e-mails with friends, colleagues, his mother and others who know him well, a portrait emerges of a tough defense attorney who has mastered the balance between easygoing and hard-charging.

Often he stands up for the Big Guy, comforting the comfortable. When some political or corporate hotshot has been charged with white-collar wrongdoing, Wells is likely to come to the defense. He has championed the causes of ExxonMobil, Schering-Plough and Carnival cruise lines.

After all, somebody has got to do it.

He's had victories. He successfully represented Clinton administration agriculture secretary Mike Espy and former senator Robert Torricelli. In 1987, he represented Raymond J. Donovan, a former Reagan administration labor secretary, and others on fraud charges. When the prosecution rested, Wells did not put any defense witnesses on the stand, a minimalist maneuver for which he's famous. The jury announced 137 acquittals.

In 1999, Brand called Wells in as a fireman in the case of Clinton-Gore fundraiser Franklin Haney, who was in court on 42 counts of election law fraud. "Ted and I went to trial," says Brand. "Boom! Forty-two acquittals."

Wells has had failure, too. In 2001 he represented Mitsubishi in a criminal antitrust case. The company was accused of price-fixing. One reason he lost the case, he has said, is because a week before jury deliberations began, the movie "Pearl Harbor" came out.

Born in Washington in 1950, Theodore V. Wells Jr. grew up in a small rowhouse in Northwest. His mother -- known in the neighborhood as Ma Wells -- still lives there. "He was like an all-American boy," Phyllis Wells says of her son. "He didn't give me trouble."

She was a mailroom clerk at the Department of the Navy for 35 years. His father was a taxi driver with a sixth-grade education. When Wells was very young, his parents split. He was raised by his mother. He has a younger sister, Toni, who lives in the District, and several half-brothers and sisters from his father's other marriages.

"He did extremely well in school," his mother remembers. She says he kept track of his grades on a piece of paper and would make out his own report card before the official one was issued. Once in elementary school he received a grade he felt he didn't deserve. He went to the teacher, pointed out the error and she changed the grade. "He knew how to argue his case," Phyllis Wells says, "even back then."

At Coolidge High School, he was passionate about football. He played center. He was smart enough to help call the plays, recalls Wells's coach, Phillip Gainous, and was strong enough to protect the quarterback.

"He was a tough guy," Gainous says. "One time he broke his coccyx -- his tailbone. He didn't miss any games. We made a doughnut for him by cutting a hole in a piece of foam. We stuck it down his pants and sent him in. He played through the pain."

Gainous, now the principal at Blair High School, says that Wells was not an arguer. "But he would," Gainous says laughing, "debate with you."

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