There's nothing like a parade of corporate scandals, and the inevitable federal probes that follow, to make the phones ring in the offices of the nation's top defense lawyers.
Several veteran white-collar-crime specialists say they are busier now than at any other time since the insider-trading and savings-and-loan debacles of a decade ago, balancing multiple business scandals and even having to turn away clients. Some are so overloaded that they rely on law partners and younger staffers to take care of everything but meetings with prosecutors and court appearances.
Their advice doesn't come cheap. Some of the most sought-after defense experts charge their harried clients more than $600 an hour.
The lawyers being most heavily pursued include Reid H. Weingarten, Peter Fleming Jr., Mark Pomerantz, Lawrence B. Pedowitz, John F. Savarese and Charles A. Stillman. Their styles range from suave to abrasive, but all are aggressive advocates for their clients. They complain that prosecutors are casting too wide a net and snaring innocent people in the current round of probes. They decry the practice of handcuffing executives who tried to surrender to authorities. And they criticize the government's dramatic step of charging Arthur Andersen LLP with obstruction of justice.
All have close ties to former colleagues in prosecutors' offices and a track record of shepherding famous people through the legal system -- and keeping them out of jail.
Reid H. Weingarten
For sheer volume of high-profile representations, Weingarten may hold the current record. Weingarten, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, has commandeered a piece of at least four high-profile business collapses. He represents former WorldCom Inc. chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers, the former top lawyer at Tyco International Ltd., the former vice chairman at Rite Aid Corp. and the onetime chief accountant at Enron Corp.
But he also practices the sort of disciplined time management that allows him to attend all of his 17-year-old son's basketball games. Weingarten, a single parent, said he leans on three partners and three or four more junior lawyers to help him with the heavy workload, saving courtroom arguments and meetings with prosecutors for himself.
Weingarten, 52, made his name locking up judges and other officials in the decade he took on public corruption as a Justice Department prosecutor. In one of his better-known cases, he won a conviction of Rep. John W. Jenrette Jr. (D-S.C.) in the Abscam scandal of the 1980s, in which FBI agents posed as Arab sheiks seeking immigration help before hidden video cameras. He also prosecuted Rep. George V. Hansen (R-Idaho), who eventually was found guilty of making false statements about his finances. Along the way, Weingarten befriended prosecutors around the country -- connections that serve him well in his current role.
He is an aggressive advocate who relishes the courtroom battle, friends said, noting that he devotes all of his concentration to crafting a persuasive story to explain his clients' actions.
"You walk in and you either persuade them your guy is innocent or you're going to kick their butt," Weingarten said of his approach toward prosecutors.
Eric Holder Jr., former deputy U.S. attorney general and a longtime friend, said clients flock to Weingarten "because he wins."
Weingarten and Theodore V. Wells Jr., now at the Paul Weiss law firm, represented former agriculture secretary Mike Espy when he was charged with taking gifts from Tyson Foods Inc. and lying about it. Espy was acquitted in 1998. So three years later was another Weingarten client, Ronald Carey, the Teamsters president who was charged with using union dues improperly.
Weingarten has a flair for the direct and brash, advising WorldCom's Ebbers to defend himself against congressional attacks while still invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions that could incriminate him.
Peter Fleming Jr.
Fleming, 73, is widely known in New York legal circles for the way he mentored dozens of young lawyers who passed through the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office in the 1960s.
He counts among his most prominent victories a pre-Watergate acquittal of former U.S. attorney general John Mitchell, charged with obstruction of justice related to an investigation of fugitive financier Robert L. Vesco, and an acquittal of boxing promoter Don King, who was charged with defrauding an insurance company. The courtroom wins were especially satisfying, Fleming said, because his clients had been "tarred and feathered" by the media before trial. He is known for taking difficult-looking cases to trial rather than settling.
Fleming towers over his diminutive client John J. Rigas, who stands accused of looting millions of dollars from the cable TV firm Adelphia Communications Corp. Fleming is also defending former Arthur Andersen partner Phillip E. Harlow on civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to Sunbeam Corp.'s accounting problems. Earlier this year, Fleming ran defense for Michael C. Odom, an Andersen official who ultimately was not charged in connection with the company's shredding of Enron audit papers.
Fleming fought back immediately after postal inspectors put the 78-year-old Rigas in handcuffs, arguing to the media and others that the arrest was unnecessary since Rigas had offered to surrender. His protests roused the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent a letter to prosecutors decrying the spectacle.
The former Navy officer, who tracked combat aircraft on radar from an aircraft carrier during the Korean War, still barks out his thoughts, lacing them with a potent sense of humor. He said he wanted to be a writer like his Princeton University classmate John McPhee. But his father nixed the idea. "My father said, 'You're not going to be what you want to be -- which is Jack Kerouac,' " Fleming recalled.
More than 40 years into his career, Fleming said he can't imagine retiring. "What else would I do?" he asked with a laugh.
The circumspect Pomerantz found himself in the middle of a feeding frenzy this year.
Pomerantz, 51, is the lead lawyer for former ImClone Systems Inc. chief executive Samuel Waksal, who has pleaded guilty to insider trading and other charges. Prosecutors continue to investigate the possibility that Waksal tipped off family members and lifestyle maven and friend Martha Stewart, who is also under intense scrutiny by government lawyers and the media.
He also represented former senator Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), whose campaign and personal finances were investigated by the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Torricelli earlier this year.
A former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Pomerantz is described by competitors as a leader in the next generation of white-collar defense lawyers.
Pomerantz, like many sought-after defenders, began his career with a long stint in the government. He last served as chief of the criminal division of the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office, a post he left in 1999.
Unlike many contemporaries, Pomerantz said he almost never talks to reporters about his cases. The instances where it makes sense to talk to the media "are few and far between," he said. "I virtually never want my representation in the press; it just gets in the way."
He won't say who else is on his roster of clients, but sources in the legal community say a major bank involved in lending to Enron is among them.
Charles A. Stillman
Stillman, 65, has been defending A-list clients -- including the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, former New York mayor David N. Dinkins, Washington wise man Clark M. Clifford and federal judge Sol Wachtler -- for nearly as long as his former mentor, Fleming.
The Brooklyn native climbed from night school at New York University into his own Park Avenue law firm, parlaying his experience into at least three current investigations, defending onetime Qwest Communications International Inc. chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, former Tyco International chief financial officer Mark H. Swartz, and Jack Waksal, the father of ImClone Systems founder Samuel Waksal.
Stillman is known for his extraordinary energy and compassion for clients. He got his start working for Fleming at the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan in the 1960s. He regularly flashes the quick affability of a person who plays to juries, peppering his conversation with the phrase "my friend."
But Stillman worries, too, mostly that the stock market dip and the parade of executives in handcuffs has made the public -- and the juries he is paid to sway -- "unforgiving."
It's a sentiment he believes so intensely that he recently waived a jury trial for one of his clients, a Canadian lawyer, gambling that his chances were better in front of a judge than 12 jurors furious about their investment losses. Although the client was convicted anyway, Stillman rests on the negative for only a moment before perking up again.
"Time heals all, my friend," he said.
Lawrence B. Pedowitz
and John F. Savarese
Pedowitz and Savarese, of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, often work together on cases, as they are in representing Citigroup Inc. chief executive Sanford I. Weill before federal and state securities regulators, and Martha Stewart in connection with federal civil and criminal probes.
Both clerked for Justice William J. Brennan Jr., though not at the same time, and both have had stints as assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York.
Both shun the press. Neither would comment for this story. Among colleagues they are loath to call themselves white-collar lawyers, preferring to describe their practice as broader, encompassing complex litigation and civil regulatory investigations as well. Pedowitz, 55, attended Union College and the New York University School of Law. Savarese, 47, went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
One SEC lawyer described Pedowitz and Savarese as among "the best of the best."
The lawyer described Pedowitz, the senior of the two, this way: "He is brilliant, but he checks his ego at the door, you can make book on whatever he tells you, and he's tough, not in a flamboyant way but in a subtle way. And he understands what the government needs to settle a case."
Staff writer Kathleen Day contributed to this report.