By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007
Montgomery Blair Sibley, attorney for the morally impugned and legally challenged, is first and foremost Montgomery Blair Sibley, which is to say a descendant of some of the most powerful families in Washington history. Various relatives served as Lincoln's postmaster, or established Blair House, or governed Maryland or founded the Western Union Telegraph Co., or, before we forget, pretty much created Montgomery County's suburbs (yes, a Silver Spring high school bears his first two names).
Now, because his most prominent client of the moment is an alleged madam who is said to possess the names of 10,000 Washington clients, some of whom are alleged to be high-profile, he is also a busy, busy lawyer.
There are other concerns in his life, too.
While this 50-year-old scion of the highborn has recently been suggesting that he could make public the names of the 10,000 in order to protect his client Deborah Jeane Palfrey, he had to pay less attention to urgent business in two other places.
One was Florida, where the state bar was seeking to yank his license for at least two years. He was found guilty in absentia (in part for being a "vexatious litigant") and now faces suspension if not disbarment. "He is someone who abuses the legal process," says Barnaby Min, counsel for the Florida Bar.
The second was in Montgomery County, where he was to stand trial for failing to pay $11,218.20 in past-due rent on office space in Gaithersburg for a tiny shipping-crate company he heads. That trial was continued.
Something is amiss here, and we haven't even gotten to the part where he sued the U.S. Supreme Court for treason (twice!), asking for $1 million in damages. Or that he spent 77 days in a Miami jail for refusing to pay child support. Or that Maryland has stopped him from running a law office in the state. Or that federal prosecutors in Palfrey's case say Sibley's filings are so ignorant of basic legal tenets that they are "almost incoherent."
All of this is bad, because it also means we haven't even mentioned "Big Pimping Pappy" yet.
Sibley's time in the spotlight continues tonight.
ABC News, which has been given exclusive rights to Palfrey's great big little black book, is scheduled to air a report on "20/20" that promises to name more names. One name that has already come up is Randall Tobias, who resigned his job as USAID chief while denying all wrongdoing. ABC teases in a promotional release that a secretary at the prestigious law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has been suspended after telling her bosses that she worked for Palfrey.
Sibley says that urging former clients to come forward and publicly say they did not have sex on their $300-per-hour dates is a necessary tactic.
John Wesley Hall Jr., a vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and author of the standard text on defense ethics, calls it "spiteful" and "over the line," and says it "doesn't serve any purpose but to harass and embarrass people."
"I'm a big boy, I can take it," Sibley says of the criticism so many have leveled at him. "The Lord never gives you more than you can carry. I've got big shoulders."
* * *
Blair Sibley is tall, trim, soft-spoken. He likes to play bagpipes and indoor soccer. He's friendly and personable.
With all the scandal and ruckus of the past week, it seems sensible to talk to him in quiet, in person. His letterhead lists a K Street address, the 1600 block, just up from the White House.
It's in a big office building of the type that his father, Harper Sibley Jr., one of the richer and more powerful developers in Florida, builds in Miami. You punch the elevator button, and when it stops, you expect the glory wall and the fresh-cut flowers and the attractive-but-not-too receptionist with the Scandinavian accent and the dawning realization that the Persian rug beneath your feet retails at more than your net salary for last year.
Instead, you find that the K Street offices for Montgomery Blair Sibley, Chartered, are in what amounts to a broom closet in the landlord's office.
It's next to the mailroom and the women running the building's switchboard. The one who tells you that Sibley's not in wears a T-shirt that appears to read, "Where's my SUGAR DADDY?"
So you go out to Rockville, to a building close to the courthouse. Sibley's other letterhead identifies this address as the Center for Forfeiture Law, which he heads.
This turns out to be more confusing: It's a room in a basement with his name on a locked door. A note taped below his name asks delivery drivers to leave packages with a mental health counseling service upstairs. A note on an adjacent door reads: "NO UNAUTHORIZED STORAGE. PER BLDG MANAGEMENT." The receptionist at the counseling service says she hasn't seen Sibley in a while.
It turns out there's a third address for Sibley, too -- the packing-crate company in Gaithersburg, the one where he's being sued for nonpayment of rent.
A call to the Florida Bar to ask for his law office address in the Sunshine State turns up the information that he doesn't have one listed -- only that basement office in Rockville.
Something is very amiss here. You do a computerized database news search for Sibley, and what you get is information on his representation of Arthur Vanmoor, better known as the aforementioned "Big Pimping Pappy."
BPP ran an escort service in Fort Lauderdale a few years back. He got busted and deported (he's Dutch), then sued his clients for having sex with his employees. Sibley was his attorney.
It was the same tactic Sibley is using now to advise Palfrey: The manager of BPP's escort service was merely providing "quality time with a quality woman," Sibley told MSNBC's Tucker Carlson in an on-camera interview in March 2006. Customers had to sign a receipt saying they wouldn't engage in illegal sexual activity. If they did, then they broke the law.
Sibley sued them for breach of contract.
Let's go to the videotape:
Carlson: "You sound like you look down on these men. That they would somehow get the idea that just because you call an escort service . . . and have a girl in a tube top and a vinyl skirt come over to your hotel room -- that somehow they got the idea sex was involved. You sound like you're unimpressed with their judgment."
Sibley: "Well, Tucker, is that what the girls look like that come to your hotel room?"
Carlson: "I don't have girls come to my hotel room who I'm not married to."
This is great television, but it's not quite what we were hoping for.
We dial Sibley on his cellphone. He answers in South Florida.
We ask him to clarify the office situation.
"Do you know how expensive office space is on K Street?" he asks. "I have a small room for meeting people, but I have a virtual office. I have an 80-gigabyte drive, I plug in at Kinko's, on laptops, on friends' computers."
One of those friends is Hector Botero, a longtime friend and president of an international media company in Miami.
"He's a very easygoing, good-natured guy," Botero says. "We don't work together, we just share boating adventures, going to the Ocean Reef Club, which his father founded, and going to Dolphin and [University of Miami] Hurricane games."
"In court, he's a very different animal."
Asked about this personality shift, Sibley is straightforward.
"I really believe in being given a path in life," he says. "Judges don't intimidate me. I don't care if I upset the apple cart. It needs to be upset. This country is in a world of [expletive]."
About his divorce, back in 1994: Sibley had been married for 13 years. It didn't seem to end well.
"I've filed more than 60 lawsuits. It's a little hard to put in a nutshell."
According to court files, Sibley once threatened his wife: "We will litigate until I am disbarred and bankrupt if necessary."
Barbara Sibley could not be reached for comment for this article. The court file says the ordeal started when Blair Sibley left the Miami area, triggering $4,000 per month in child-support payments, which he failed to make. The 77 days in jail eventually followed.
Among the dozens of defendants Sibley has sued in the wake of the divorce are the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
"This case exposed a real abuse of the family court system," he says. "Some have called my filings themselves to be abusive. I don't. I consider it my patriotic duty to expose a horrible system."
He filed so many suits against so many people, almost all of them immediately dismissed, that Florida courts ordered the clerk's office not to accept any more filings from him relating to the divorce unless another member of the Florida Bar also signed the complaint. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said his suits amounted to a "multi-headed leviathan of meritless litigation."
His father says he's proud of him.
"He always wanted to be stirring things up," Harper Sibley says. "He was always an activist. I encourage him. He feels he's fighting for underdogs of this world, for people being treated unfairly."
Botero, Sibley's friend, says things took a turn for Sibley beginning with the 1994 divorce.
"Blair was working for a good law firm out of New York with an office in Miami. He came down here, he was a bright guy, his father was a major mover and shaker, a pillar of the community in his time -- all the opportunities were there. But these divorces, they can take on a life of their own."
In the end, Montgomery Blair Sibley is Montgomery Blair Sibley. He does not have to worry that he will be seen as lower-class, that he will end up living in a refrigerator box, that the doors of the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo will be closed to him.
In 1996, Sibley flew to Russia "to find a wife," he says. "Men are more valued there. One goes where one is valued. I fell in love with my interpreter," 20 years his junior. Clearly, since their 2003 divorce, it can be said that he is not immune to the hopes and beliefs that complicate men's lives. His 9-year-old son spends alternate weeks with him in a modest townhouse.
Big shoulders. Something amiss.
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.