DAVID POVICH is probably the only lawyer in the country who has won an acquittal for the following type of client: A public official who is shown on videotape taking bribe money from undercover agents.
Needless to say, Provich's phone at Williams and Connally has been busy for the past week. Surprisingly enough, though, he has not been hired by any of the eight congressmen reportedly caught up in the FBI undercover operation known as ABSCAM.
But a few of the attorneys who do have such clients -- including coworkers at Williams and Connolly who have represented U.S. Rep. John Jennrette (R-S-C.) on other matters and probably will on this one -- have been asking Povich about his experiences.
Povich represents a federal prosecutor who was lured almost by chance into the first D.C. "sting" operation three years ago and was acquitted on bribery charges despite his blatant acceptance of cash.
Povich is open with his advice and the thrust of it is amazingly simple:
Keep the focus away from the videotape transactions, and find out why and how the public official was pulled into the feds' net.
As Povich explains it, it isn't quite a entrapment defense -- it's more of an enticement defense. He said it is one thing for the government to set up operations so that admitted thieves can sell their stolen goods. But it is another for the government to go out and try to catch people on the take -- "fishing without any real basis," as Povich put it.
People caught up in such situations are not necessarily criminals. They are categorized more properly as opportunists, according to several people who have handled such undercover operations in the past. They may be greedy, but not corrupt.
"They could go through the rest of their life without committing an unlawful act," Povich said.
In learning how and why the persons come into the FBI trap, Povich said, a lawyer has to focus on the middleman who was used an the manner in which the suspect was approached.
"They've [the government agents] created a monster" by turning loose a middleman and telling him to bring in politicians on the take. "It's out of control."
In the case he won, Povich told the jury to watch "what wasn't recorded. You have to know everything that they [the government agents] did. You have to know."
"I said to myself, 'I don't have a basically dishonest person.'" Povich said of his first meeting with his client who was acquitted. "I tried to find out how this could have happened. Was it because he was a crook, or did they do something to persuade him?"
Povich made it clear he doesn't know all the facts in the current string cases, and government attorneys say they don't set out to trap government officials without some indication of previous wrongdoing.
However, Povich was able to convince a jury that his client could accept bribe money without being guilty of a crime. In that instance, his client cried on the stand, the client's wife told of vague "threatening calls" at home, and the government tried the case sloppily.
Presumably, the government learned from its mistakes in the case in which Povich won his acquittal. But persons who have seen the still-secret ABSCAM tapes concede there still are problems that might result in some of the comgressmen who were indentified never being charged, and with others unlikely to be convicted if they are charged.
All of that has nothing to do with the stupidity and dishonesty of any public official who stuffs money in his or her pockets without flinching. It does have to do with whether or not they are criminals.
And, despite the cries about publicity and political futures, that is the bottom line of anyone -- politician or junkie -- caught up in a criminal investigation: Is the jailhouse door going to clang shut behind me?
Don't bet on it in all of these ABSCAM cases.
One might expect the American Bar Association to be a big defender of Chief Justice Warren Burger. After all, the Supreme Court is rather vital to the legal profession.
However, some of the ABA's members seem a bit squirmy over the blatancy of the association's recent public gushing over Burger. First, the ABA Journal published a cover story depicting Burger as an Abraham Lincoln-type figure who worked his way from night law school to become one of the finest chief justices ever. The story also compared him favorably to former Justice Hugo Black in terms of being able to rise above childhood adversity and perceived intellectual weaknesses.
Then, at the ABA midyear convention last week. ABA President Leonard Janofsky introduced Burger to a speech crowd with an anecdote about Burger's personal warmth and charm.
Is it just a coincidence that a recent book about the court focused on Burger's alleged lack of scholarship and reportedly aloof character?
The Prince George's County law firm of DePaul, Willoner and Kenkel has split up an three new firms have been formed: Joseph A. DePaul and William C. Brennan Jr. have opened DePaul and Brennan in College Park: Ronald A. Willoner, John F. Calabrese and Steven Rosen have opened a firm with their last names in that order in College Park, and James Kenkel has opened an office in Upper Marlboro . . . Stanley Sporkin, enforcement chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission, will answer critics of government regulatory agencies in a Thursday luncheon talk to the Washington Council of Lawyers at 1018 Vermont Ave. NW.