Of Prostitutes and Prosecutors

The alleged madam and her attorney, dragging Justice into justice.
The alleged madam and her attorney, dragging Justice into justice. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler's courtroom yesterday experienced the kind of harmonic convergence generally reserved for those occasions when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

In a legal pleading that may have set a new standard for inventiveness, the lawyer for the alleged D.C. Madam argued that his client is a victim of -- you guessed it -- the scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys. The federal charges that Deborah Jeane Palfrey ran a prostitution racket, her lawyer said, were cooked up to fit the "political purposes" of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales and his now-former aides Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson and the like.

Just what these "purposes" would be was unclear, for the case has ensnared from political Washington only Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and then-Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias. But this bit of logic did not trouble the madam's lawyer, Montgomery Blair Sibley.

"There's something rotten at the Department of Justice," he declared. The case against his client, he felt quite sure, is intimately tied to the "spectacular series of resignations from the Justice Department" and inextricably bound to the "purge" of nine U.S. attorneys.

If true, it would be an Age of Aquarius for the scandal world -- the equivalent of finding Jack Abramoff, Monica Lewinsky and Duke Cunningham in the same airport men's room stall. Alas for scandal mongers, this turned out to be a rather large "if."

As proof of the connection -- "the memo trail of motivation for this prosecution," as Sibley put it -- he presented an article from Legal Times, an internal Justice Department spreadsheet and an anonymous posting on a blog. None even mentioned Palfrey. When the prosecution pointed out, accurately, that Sibley had identified no hint of political interference in Palfrey's case, Sibley fired back: "The proof of the negative resides with the government."

The proof of just about everything else, however, seems to reside with the defendant's lawyer. He has buried the government in filings that, printed out, now exceed an inch in thickness. There's the "motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct"; a request for "appointment of special counsel"; an application to the Supreme Court; lawsuits against Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo and others; and no fewer than seven motions to dismiss the criminal charges, including yesterday's claim of "selective prosecution."

"The Constitution of the United States prohibits the executive department," Sibley alleged yesterday, from "pursuing criminal charges against the defendant." After invoking the Constitution's little-known Palfrey Clause, Sibley said his "basis for this allegation" included a claim by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that the Justice Department was "corrupted by political influence."

"I do not stand alone," Sibley said after reading Leahy's words.

"Awfully wacky" is how Leahy's office describes Sibley.

Sibley has already sought to subpoena Leahy, as well as a New York Post gossip columnist, a former Hollywood madam and an ABC News reporter. "This is a pattern that Mr. Sibley has engaged in," Justice Department lawyer William Cowden told the judge. "Obviously there is no legitimate purpose."

Not that this would be unusual; as The Post's Neely Tucker documented, Sibley has battled disbarment in Florida, in part for being a "vexatious litigant," and has twice sued the Supreme Court for treason.

Palfrey, however, still believes. Wearing pouty red lipstick and matching burgundy polish on her toenails and fingernails, the defendant spoke loudly with Sibley as they waited for yesterday's hearing to begin. "It only takes one photo from 10 years ago," she told her lawyer as she clutched a 2007 datebook jammed with handwritten notes. Sibley drummed his fingers.

"Mr. Sibley, will you be using any documents?" prosecutor Daniel Butler inquired.

"I haven't decided yet," Sibley said, grinning. Minutes later, he presented his exhibits to the judge.

"Unfair," Butler protested.

"It's calling a pot 'black,' " Sibley rejoined.

He then brought out his "evidence." When Sibley got to what he called an "anonymous blog posting" from a site called War and Piece, Butler shook his head in amazement. Another prosecutor, Catherine Connelly, couldn't hide a grin of her own.

When Sibley misidentified Jeffrey Taylor, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Kessler interrupted to correct him. "You know more about that," Sibley replied, though he was still knowledgeable enough to claim that Taylor "was involved in this purge" of U.S. attorneys.

The lawyer offered to expand on his sensational claims, but "I would have to say things that would violate this court's restraining order against me."

Butler, in his brief reply, noted that "the defendant has not offered a single piece of evidence."

"There's not much else I can say," Butler concluded.

But there is always more Sibley can say. He left the courtroom and added yet another filing to the groaning docket: a "Notice of Unavailability" announcing that, on Nov. 5, he will be taking a trip to Florida.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company