Ed White said that when he glanced down at the log book at Quantico Marine Base the day after President Reagan was shot and saw that Vincent J. Fuller had signed in, he knew he was about to lose his job as court-appointed lawyer for John W. Hinckely Jr.
The log showed that Fuller, a senior partner at Williams & Connolly, had spent about two hours that day with Hinckley, the 25-year-old drifter charged with the attempted assassination of the president.
"He (Fuller) obviously wasn't there for the hell of it," said Wilhite, who has been taking court appointed criminal cases in Washington courts since he quit his job with Legal Aid in 1970.
Fuller's appearance was no surprise to Wilhite, who, along with attorney Stuart Johnson, had been appointed to the case by a federal magistrate shortly after Hinckley's arrest on Monday, March 30. The rumors that Fuller had been asked to take the case had been floating around the federal courthouse as soon as four hours after Hinckley's arrest.
Lawyers who know Fuller, 50, describe him as solid and straightforward, a man with an "excellent reputation as a superior trial lawyer." Fuller played an early role in the defense case for former Michigan congressman Charles Diggs and represented Westinghouse in a much publicized overseas bribe case in 1978.
Generally, though, his cases have not grabbed the headlines -- until Hinckley. A stocky, square-shouldered man with a deep, formal voice, Fuller's style is to be "guarded," one lawyer said. "He doesn't open up," the lawyer said. But when he talks, he's honest. "You can trust him when he tells you something," this lawyer said. Fuller through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed.
"I had no doubt he was superb attorney," Wilhite said in an interview at the courthouse last week. As to losing his client to a retained lawyer, Wilhite said he only gets bothered "when somebody goes out and hires a hack." Gregory Craig, a partner at the Williams' firm, and associate Lon Babby are assisting Fuller with the case.
Fuller got the Hinckley case via Dallas and Maurice Bates, a corporate securities lawyer in a 10-member firm there that represents the Denver-based Vanderbilt Energy Corp., owned by John Hinkley Sr. Bates said in a telephone interview that he and Fuller were both law students at Georgetown in the late 1950s, and one of their professors -- in criminal law -- was Edward Bennett Williams.
Bates said that shortly after the Hinckley family learned of their son's arrest, he got a call from Hinckley Sr., who was looking for help.Bates said he suggested they find local counsel in Washington, such as Fuller. At that point, Bates said, no one knew that Wilhite and Johnson had been appointed to the case.
Meanwhile, Wilhite and Johnson were at the U.S. District Court doing their job for their client. Wilhite said the first thing he wanted to accomplish was to delay any mental competency examination of Hinckley. Wilhite said he knew Fuller would want to avoid having Hinckley examined by any government doctors.
Wilhite and Johnson got the examination postponed until Wednesday night. And the first thing Fuller tried to do on Thursday, as Hinckley's new lawyer, was block the government from sending Hinckley to the federal correctional institution in Butner, N.C., for thorough examination by government psychiatrists.
Fuller clearly wanted the defense doctors to get a look at Hinckley first. The court sent Hinckley to Butner -- where he is today -- but said defense doctors would have access to Hinckley at the same time.
Meanwhile, Ed Wilhite has asked the court to pay him a total of $268 for the work he did for John Hinckley Jr. -- $250 in services and $18 in car fare to and from Quantico. As to what it took to hire Williams & Connolly to take the Hinckley case, Wilhite says with a smile that he'd love to know. Johnson declined to discuss his role in the case.
Of John Hinckley, Wilhite said, "He's going to be well-represented, so I don't have to worry about him anymore."