well-dressed, well-spoken and, after 29 years in the law business, well-heeled -- reaches for a cigarette, his umpteenth of the day, and semirelaxes into the high-backed leather chair of his Northwest Washington townhouse-office.
Hanging behind him is a stained glass window, back-lit by bright spring sunshine, bearing the words: "Plato Cacheris, established 1929" and the images of three monkeys -- see, hear and speak no evil -- a gift from friends. Nearby sits a cigarette box embossed with the words "Not Guilty."
Relaxation is not really in the repertoire of a man who, with his partner, William G. Hundley, has built one of the premier criminal defense firms in the area, specializing in the high-stakes field of white-collar crime with clients who are, as one lawyer says drily, "result oriented."
The firm has stood up over the years for former attorney general John Mitchell, Philadelphia's Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers (twice), United Mine Workers leader W.A (Tony) Boyle and dozens of other individuals and corporations, all of them in hot water. On Thursday the firm was in federal court in Scranton, Pa., where client E.F. Hutton & Co. Inc. pleaded guilty to a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
The latest courtroom marathon for Cacheris was the headline-grabbing case of Dr. David Davoudlarian, the Annandale gynecologist accused in a $10 million lawsuit of killing of his wife. After a grueling, three-week trial in Fairfax County, Cacheris won a hung jury and claimed victory.
Price tag for the doctor: $70,000, at the Hundley & Cacheris hourly rate of $250, a top-dollar fee scale that few Washington area defendants could touch. (Davoudlarian's bill would have been even higher if Cacheris had handled the pretrial proceedings.)
"He's just a hell of a good lawyer," says a peer, attorney Herbert J. Miller Jr., who counts among his clients former president Richard Nixon.
In recent years, Cacheris has slowly gained a reputation, too, as "Jimmy's brother" -- a reference to his younger sibling, U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris in Alexandria, a quieter, more deliberative example of the Cacheris family ambition and drive instilled by Greek immigrant parents.
Judge Cacheris declined to be photographed for this article.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Bethesda and the District, both men typify the up-by-bootstraps second-generation immigrant experience in America, according to those who know them.
"First you're exposed to working hard," says Nicholas Gage, a fellow Greek-American and author of the bestseller "Eleni." ". . . and their parents worked 16 or 18 hours a day in their restaurant in Washington. Then you're exposed to opportunity. And then if you have talent, it's hard not to do well in this country."
The Cacheris brothers' father, once a waiter in Chicago and Pittsburgh with a sixth-grade education, invested in a small chain of hamburger and waffle shops in the Washington area and moved his family here in about 1942. He died in 1966.
His "lack of education meant he was death on us kids," said Plato. "He would have been the proudest guy in the world at Jimmy's swearing in" as a federal judge about three years ago.
A third brother, John, educated at Carnegie Tech and Princeton, is an electrical engineer for Motorola in Phoenix.
At 55, Plato Cacheris walks on the balls of his feet, pitched slightly forward as if a stiff headwind were forever blowing new cases, high fees and fresh challenges directly at him. His deep, gravelly voice, a godsend for a trial lawyer, could fill an opera house.
The Davoudlarian trial last month included a stem-winding closing argument by Cacheris. "There are guys who tell me I'm two different people," he said of his courtroom persona. "I think jurors enjoy a production." But, he added, reaching for another cigarette, "I'm a pretty shy guy. Seriously."
His labors allow him to indulge a penchant for travel, particularly to Europe and Greece (a 1951 graduate of Georgetown University with a major in foreign service, he once dreamed, Walter Mitty-like, of being named U.S. ambassador to Athens) and his comfortable home in the west end of Alexandria includes a private tennis court.
The court was installed at the time of John Mitchell's Watergate cover-up trial. "It was built with a portion of Mitchell's fee," said Robert Jackson of the Los Angeles Times, a friend and tennis crony. "I'm sure a very small portion."
An alumnus of Leland Junior High in Bethesda and the old Western High School in the District, where brother Jimmy was an all-city football guard, Cacheris put his roots down here, marrying his high school sweetheart, Ethel.
"Not his high school sweetheart, my high school sweetheart," said Ambassador Robert V. Keeley, laughing. Keeley, former U.S. envoy to Mauritius and Zimbabwe, met Cacheris walking to school at Western one day. The two friends were counselors together at a summer camp.
"His father had been a semipro boxer and he taught Plato to box," Keeley said. "We put on a demonstration for the kids at camp and he nearly killed me."
The Cacherises, who will celebrate their 30th anniversary in June, have two children, Lisa, 28, who graduates this month from Georgetown law school, and Byron, 23, who works in the car business.
Cacheris earned his law degree from Georgetown in 1956 and went to work for the Justice Department where he met Hundley.
Hundley stayed on as special assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, while Cacheris left to do a hitch, from 1960 to 1965, as first assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria.
In 1965, Cacheris entered private practice in Virginia. "I like defending better, although it's harder," he said. "I like the battle against the government. And I never really liked seeing people go to jail."
When his friend Hundley (another Pittsburgh native) suggested in 1968 that they form a partnership in the District, Cacheris abruptly folded up shop in Virginia and moved across the river.
They come across practically as twins, each with a voice that would crack glass, and a shared network of friends -- including Gage and Peter Maas, author of "The Valachi Papers" and "Serpico" -- from the old 1960s days of organized crime and racketeering prosecutions.
"I love Hundley as much as my brothers and consider him a brother, as he does me," Cacheris said. Hundley swears they've never had an argument.
Their brand of trial work, said Cacheris, demands "intelligence and industry, although I'm not saying I have these . . . . Imagination. And a feeling for people -- to know what appeals to a jury, what makes your client tick, how to handle a witness."
"It's like being a surgeon, an emergency room type of situation," said his brother, the judge. "It's a young man's game. There are older guys who are competent, but you have to pick your shots. It's very intense."
In the Fairfax courthouse cafeteria, an hour before closing arguments were scheduled to start in the Davoudlarian case last month, Cacheris was speeding, verbally and mentally, as if he had just eaten adrenalin for lunch. He smoked a cigarette, stabbed it out in an ashtray, and replaced it with another.
"After the trial, he came over to the house for dinner," Judge Cacheris said, "and he was zonked, exhausted."
Do some clients admit their guilt to him?
"Yes. Many times." Part of the silk-stocking fee is earned in deciding whether a plea or a trial is advisable. "I don't want to go in to trial and make a fool of myself," he said. "I try to project the closing argument in my mind."
And what of his recent high-profile trial, the case of the Annandale doctor accused of causing his wife's death? Did Davoudlarian do it?
"I can't play God on that," Cacheris said, his fingers heading for the cigarette pack. "A lot of things look like he did it. I don't think he did. He told me, in spades, that he didn't." CAPTION: Picture, Defense attorney Plato Cacheris: At $250 an hour, relaxation isn't in his repertoire. By Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post