COURTS

Arrested Lawyer Quick to Charge Back

Walter L. Blair, right, worked with Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. during a 2003 civil suit relating to the fatal Prince George's County shooting of college student Gary A. Hopkins Jr. A settlement was reached before trial.
Walter L. Blair, right, worked with Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. during a 2003 civil suit relating to the fatal Prince George's County shooting of college student Gary A. Hopkins Jr. A settlement was reached before trial. (By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)
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By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 28, 2008

Defense attorneys typically advise clients charged with criminal offenses to keep quiet. College Park lawyer Walter L. Blair, who is representing himself after being accused of money laundering and witness tampering, is taking a somewhat different approach.

On Nov. 10, four days after he was arrested, Blair filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein and others targeted him for investigation because he is black and of Jamaican descent. The suit accuses federal law enforcement officials of coercing government witnesses, unlawfully seizing documents from Blair's office and conspiring to violate his civil rights.

The lawsuit, which offers no evidence in support of those claims, asks a judge to throw out the criminal charges against Blair and prohibit prosecutors from indicting him again. It also seeks $200 million in damages.

"This is so compelling, Ray Charles could see it," Blair said in an interview. "What they are doing to me is an outrage. Somebody needs to defend the dream. If I need to stand alone, so be it."

Rosenstein dismissed the lawsuit as "frivolous" and noted that a 23-member federal grand jury indicted Blair after weighing evidence. "We don't pay attention to race or ethnicity," he said. "Anybody who committed these offenses would be indicted."

Blair, 57, a Brookeville resident, has gained public attention over the years as an aggressive advocate for plaintiffs suing local police, sometimes partnering with the late noted lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Court records make clear that Blair has also been an occasional plaintiff himself, suing a judge who presided over a case he tried, a doctor he retained as an expert witness and a prosecutor he alleged had violated his civil rights.

Also named as defendants in his latest lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, are Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael R. Pauzé, IRS agent Daniel R. Johnson and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

Asked what evidence supports his claim of discrimination, Blair pointed to the first sentence in the indictment: "The defendant, WALTER LLOYD BLAIR, was a native of Jamaica, and between at least 2002 and 2005, a resident of Silver Spring and Brookeville, Maryland."

"It's obvious," he said. "Why do that except to tell the grand jury that Blair is a black man?"

The indictment accuses Blair of laundering at least $70,000 that once belonged to a Jamaican drug dealer in Richmond. Before he was killed, the dealer gave a safe containing the money to a distant relative who lived in Germantown, the indictment alleges.

In 2003, the indictment says, the relative contacted Blair after the drug dealer went missing and his girlfriend was found shot to death; the dealer and his girlfriend's son were later also found fatally shot. Blair told the relative to bring the money to him at his office in College Park, the indictment says.

As part of a scheme Blair hatched to conceal the origins of the money, more than $40,000 was used to buy real estate, the indictment alleges. Blair also used $30,000 to pay himself and two other lawyers for representing associates of the slain drug dealer, it says.


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