William A. Borders Jr., the Washington lawyer charged nine days ago with accepting $150,000 from an undercover agent to bribe a federal judge in Miami, was a man of different worlds.
He was a criminal lawyer roaming the corridors of the city's courthouses, defending some of Washington's most notorious accused drug dealers and gamblers.
He was a savvy and ambitious lawyer, who served for a time as president of the National Bar Association, an 8,000-member organization of black lawyers, and was considered one of the more influential lawyers in the city.
Borders was an early and active supporter of former president Jimmy Carter, carving out a unique niche for himself among some of the president's most powerful advisers.
Thus when close friends and associates from around the country gathered here Oct. 9 to honor Borders' stewardship of the 56-year-old bar association, the last thing in the world they expected was to learn that he was in jail.
"Bill Borders was a respected member of the Washington and national community," said Herbert O. Reid, the former dean of Howard University Law School (from which Borders graduated), who now serves as legal counsel to Mayor Marion Barry. "And I shared that respect for him. So far as I'm concerned, I still have respect for him and hope that he is vindicated."
Though he had never served in elective office, Borders seemingly had influence in the Carter White House, could talk directly to the attorney general of the United States or the mayor of Washington and ran an active legal practice as well.
President Carter had appointed Borders as his personal representative to the influential D.C. commission that helps choose city judges and the 42-year-old lawyer had traveled with former attorney general Griffin B. Bell on a presidential mission to Europe.
After Carter left office, President Reagan tried to remove Borders from the panel, the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, but Borders fought the removal in court -- and won.
Borders has been unavailable for comment since his Oct. 10 release from the D.C. Jail on $25,000 bond. Borders was arrested the previous day on a charge that he was a conduit for a $150,000 cash payoff to Miami U.S. District Court Judge Alcee L. Hastings.
The arrest climaxed an elaborate FBI investigation that included telephone wiretaps, an agent posing as a businessman willing to buy his way out of a jail sentence and other agents secretly watching the judge at dinner at a posh Miami hotel.
Borders is accused of attempting to secure reduced sentences for two brothers convicted on racketering charges and sentenced by Hastings in Florida in return for the money. A federal grand jury in Miami began hearing evidence in the case last week. Borders is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Oct. 29 in Alexandria.
Borders, from 1967, began to build his reputation in the most notorious drug conspiracy case ever prosecuted in the District of Columbia. He was one of the lawyers in a case where many of the defendants -- including Lawrence (Slippery) Jackson and attorney Alan V. Roberson -- were "people from the neighbhorhood" where he grew up, Borders later recalled.
Borders' other clients have included former D.C. City Council member Douglas E. Moore, who was convicted in 1976 of assaulting a tow-truck driver; Charles L. (Black Danny) McDaniels, convicted in 1974 in a major police corruption and gambling case; and Roger W. (Roddy) Simkins, son of the legendary Washington gambling figure Roger W. (Whitetop) Simkins, in a gambling trial.
Those who knew Borders were stunned by news of his arrest.
"I saw it in the newspaper and on television and I was shocked," said Bell. "He was always very supportive of me and I was shocked."
Former Carter campaign chairman Robert S. Strauss also praised Borders' political work and expressed "sadness" at the allegations.
"He was very strategic in our fund-raising efforts in 1976 as well as 1980," said Ben Brown, a friend of Borders and a Carter campaign official who said he first recruited Borders in 1975.
Among the prominent black organizations opposed to Bell's nomination in 1977 as attorney general was the National Bar Association, whose then-president criticized Bell's civil rights record, according to Bell.
"Borders, I think, arranged for all of them to come down and see me," Bell said. "I had never met Borders up to that point. I was already under heavy attack and I was happy to meet with them."
After the meeting, the organization agreed not to oppose Bell.
Through 1980, Borders remained a loyal supporter of the Carter administration and raised thousands of dollars. In 1980, Borders, who has said in court that his after-tax salary is about $50,000, also contributed a total of $16,000 to the Carter efforts, including a $10,000 contribution on Oct. 10, Federal Election Commission records show. That same day, another lawyer in Borders' firm, Dudley R. Williams, is also listed as having contributed $10,000, the records show.
But it also was in 1980 that Borders began to reap the benefits from his loyal service to Carter and from his appointment to the presidency of the National Bar. "He had a certain political access and he got that as part of 'To the victor, go the spoils' " said William J. Beckham, a high-ranking transportation official in the Carter administration.
In January 1980, Carter sent Borders to an Olympic torch ceremony in Greece. In July, Carter named Borders to the judicial nomination commission, where he has already assisted in the selection of seven D.C. judges.
Three weeks after that appointment, Borders accompanied Bell to a conference in Spain commemorating the signing of the Helsinki human rights accords.
"I told them put him on there the list of delegates because he was the president of the National Bar Association," Bell recalled. "He would be a logical person. In all the time I knew him he never asked me for anything."
When Carter named Borders to the sensitive judicial nomination commission, however, Charles F.C. Ruff, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, advised then attorney general Benjamin R. Civiletti of questions that law enforcement authorities had raised about Borders' background and associations, and the information was sent to the White House, according to sources.
White House counsel Lloyd N. Cutler had his own preference for the post, D.C. Bar President Stephen J. Pollak. But in a Carter administration that was sensitive to minority appointments and the preferences of city officials who supported Borders, like Mayor Barry, Borders was selected.
Those who gathered to toast Borders on Oct. 9 -- about 50 black and white lawyers, judges, and friends -- had planned to celebrate his accomplishments.
As they gathered at an Alexandria dock for a party aboard the chartered cruise boat "Dandy," two men were conspicuously absent: Borders, who had been arrested earlier in the day, and Judge Hastings, who had flown up from Florida for the affair.
"Some people did not know about it until they heard it at the boat," recalled one participant. "There was a feeling that Bill would be back at the pier to meet the people when they got back." He was not.
Many went on to the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Southwest Washington. Borders and Hastings had reserved adjoining rooms. There the guests waited, holding an after-cruise party, and as music played in the background, calls were made to the D.C. Jail in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange Borders' release, according to one account.
Hastings, meanwhile, had flown back to Florida where at midnight, FBI agents informed him that he was the target of a federal investigation, a rare probe into the activities of a sitting federal judge.
Back at the hotel here, there was an undaunted spirit at the party among Borders' friends. "They felt the FBI and the government had purposely tried to rain on the parade" by arresting Borders that day, said one participant, "and they were going to have the parade in spite of the rain." CAPTION: Picture, WILLIAM A. BORDERS...out on $25,000 bond.