Tall, gray-haired and usually soft-spoken, Charles F. Daum has made a career out of difficult cases. A well-regarded defense lawyer in D.C. Superior Court, he often works gritty trials — and gets results.

But now Daum is at the center of his own difficult case: In April, federal prosecutors charged him with conspiracy and witness tampering in connection with his defense of a client in a drug case. If convicted, he faces the possibility of decades in jail and six-digit fines.

Prosecutors say these are the first such charges against a practicing Washington-based lawyer in more than 15 years. Area lawyers, including many not connected to the case, are watching intently.

A 1977 graduate of George Mason University’s law school, Daum joined the D.C. Bar the next year. Now 64, he runs his practice out of a brownstone in Northeast Washington, driving around the city in a black Cadillac CTS. He’s known as a steely litigator who built a name working drug and homicide cases during the height of the District’s crack epidemic in the late 1980s and ’90s.

The case against him centers on his defense of Delante White, who was indicted on federal drug trafficking charges in 2008. Federal prosecutors allege that after White hired Daum, the lawyer — and two investigators, Daaiyah Pasha and her daughter, Iman, who have also been charged in the Daum case — hatched a plan to trick a jury into thinking that the drugs seized in a police raid of White’s apartment weren’t his.

Prosecutors say that D.C. police used a search warrant at White’s grandmother’s house in the 600 block of Hamlin Street NE on Feb. 23, 2008. Officers seized 50 grams of cocaine, $2,000 in cash, ammunition, a digital scale, plates with cocaine residue, a razor, an Adidas shoe box and a pair of Gucci boots — along with pictures of White wearing them.

Prosecutors say Daum discussed a plan with White — then in jail — and his girlfriend, Candace Robertson, to have her and another person take a bus to New York and buy another pair. Then Daum instructed one of White’s brothers to have his picture taken wearing the new ones at a Bladensburg nightclub.

Daum then staged more photographs with a razor blade, scale and other items that showed someone other than White cutting rock cocaine in the Northeast apartment days before the raid, according to the government.

Prosecutors say Daum created a fake lease to suggest that White lived in Hyattsville, not the District, when the raid took place. The indictment also says he encouraged one of White’s associates to encourage a witness to say that someone else lived in the apartment — and told White to encourage that witness to leave town during the trial to avoid testifying.

The photos were introduced as evidence during a trial in U.S. District Court. That trial ended with a deadlocked jury, and prosecutors were preparing to retry White when the allegations against Daum and the investigators surfaced.

White’s status is unclear. The original case, as well as a related obstruction of justice case against Robertson, has been sealed in federal court. Justice Department officials declined to comment on the cases.

A marijuana possession case against White, meanwhile, was dismissed in D.C. Superior Court in February 2009. White’s attorney, Mark Carroll, declined to comment.

Daum and the Pashas have pleaded not guilty. He wouldn’t discuss the indictment after a recent Superior Court hearing during which he withdrew from another case because of his indictment. Daum’s attorney, former federal prosecutor David Schertler, said Daum plans to “fight in trial and vindicate his reputation.”

A possible chilling effect

Area lawyers are intensely interested. Some are amazed that Daum might have jeopardized a three-decade career by fabricating evidence in a bare-bones drug case. Others wonder whether they really know Daum.

Among the unknowns is the strength of the government’s case. Sources familiar with the case said the allegations stem primarily from recorded phone calls, but people who have listened to the calls say they haven’t heard Daum or the Pashas on them. And prosecutors called Robertson, White’s girlfriend, the “principal planner and organizer” of the boot photographs at a 2009 U.S. District Court hearing.

Prosecutors have declined to discuss the situation in detail, but the government thinks it has a strong case. “Charging decisions in all our cases are guided by the facts and the law,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney.

Other lawyers read the indictment as a warning to aggressive defense lawyers. Betty M. Ballester, head of the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association, said defense lawyers worry that prosecutors are “targeting high-profile attorneys and investigators.”

“Charges of this nature, unless supported by concrete, credible evidence, will chill defense lawyers from fulfilling their duty under the rules to aggressively pursue evidence that contradicts the government’s version,” said Julia Leighton, general counsel in the office of the District’s Public Defender Service.

Bernie Grimm, who is representing Daaiyah Pasha, agrees.

“A good lawyer fights for their client and goes up to the edge of an ethical violation without crossing that line,” Grimm said. “But we have to be able to have those conversations without fear that the government is keeping an eye on us.”

Fear of client retribution

But lawyers seem most troubled that unsatisfied clients might make charges against them in exchange for the government’s favor. Gladys Weatherspoon, Iman Pasha’s attorney, thinks White and Robertson framed Daum for that reason. “Every defense attorney is one client away from being Mr. Daum,” she said.

As a result of situations like this one, Ballester says, lawyers might reconsider taking certain cases — especially federal cases in which the defendants face long sentences and have little to lose.

“During the trial, prosecutors say our defendants are lying,” Ballester said. “But when the client accuses a defense attorney of an illegal act, prosecutors then want to believe them.”

Although Daum has the respect of many of his colleagues, he has been disciplined three times for professional misconduct since 1994 for working on Maryland cases without a state license, revealing confidential client information and failing to place client funds obtained during a civil case in an escrow account. Still, neither Daum nor the Pashas have ever faced charges like the ones that came down in April.

Prosecutors have charged Daum, Daaiyah Pasha and Iman Pasha with one count of conspiring to corruptly influence a juror. Daum also was charged with three counts of influencing a juror, one count of tampering with a witness and two counts of inducing perjury. If convicted, Daum and the investigators would face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charges.

Daum also faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the juror influence counts and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the perjury charges.

In the meantime, the effects of the case are rippling through the courthouse. Many cases in which Daum and the investigators were involved have been delayed as clients have sought new representation and those lawyers have hired new investigators. As for Daum and the Pashas, committees of Superior Court judges and lawyers are reviewing their eligibility to work on court-appointed cases.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for July 13 in federal court. Around the city, lawyers will be paying close attention. “I don’t want to believe Mr. Daum did this,” said Heather Pinckney, a defense lawyer who knows him and has watched him try cases. “There’s just too much we still don’t know yet.”