Call Her Madam -- and a Lot of Washington Nervous

Deborah Jeane Palfrey takes stock in her case.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey takes stock in her case. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The alleged "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey, is a woman of many talents.

Palfrey, who is terrorizing Washington men by threatening to reveal the 15,000 clients of her, um, escort service, also revealed herself yesterday to be an expert stock picker. Moments after dismissing the lawyer who was defending her in a federal racketeering case, she rose to ask U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler a question.

The defendant, in high heels and bright-red lipstick, told the judge she holds 5,000 shares of Dolby Laboratories in her Schwab account. "The stock has increased in value approximately $13 a share" -- to $37 -- "since this particular asset was seized," she explained after a brief struggle to operate the courtroom microphone. "I really do believe it's at its peak. I'd like the court to order this stock be sold as soon as possible."

The judge declined to play portfolio manager. "At this point, I cannot do that," Kessler said.

In a bit of felicitous timing, Palfrey had a status hearing in her prostitution case yesterday, only three days after she forced the resignation of a former client, Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias. But her performance made her look more mad than madam. In the space of a few minutes, she dismissed her highly regarded public defender, watched as another lawyer she brought to the witness table was kicked out by the judge, and gave a news conference explaining her "ethically conscientious choice" to give her phone records to ABC News in hopes that outed clients will serve as defense witnesses.

"Surely, most people have established by now that mine is a very bizarre and rather unusual case," Palfrey told the television cameras after the hearing. Moments later, she added: "I believe there is something very, very rotten at the core of my circumstance."

On these points, no objection will be sustained.

The fourth-floor courtroom was packed with reporters, curious lawyers and a couple of sex-trial tourists. "Do you know where the D.C. Madam is?" inquired a perspiring man in a yellow plaid shirt and white jeans as he wandered the hallway. At the prosecution table, one of the government lawyers was in a wheelchair inscribed with the word "QUICKIE" in big letters on the back.

Palfrey arrived with a freelance writer carrying a National Wildlife Federation tote bag and with a flamboyant lawyer, Montgomery Blair Sibley, who represents Palfrey in a civil case against the government.

"Do you have anything to say going in?" asked WRC-TV's Pat Collins.

"Yeah," Sibley answered. "Get out of my way." Sibley, wearing a moth-eaten suit and penny loafers, pulled out a chair and poured a cup of water for Palfrey; it was a gentlemanly way to treat a madam.

"She's asked me to sit next to her to explain what's going on," Sibley told the judge.

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