Richard Jaffe, a prominent defense lawyer in Alabama, represented Senate candidate Roy Moore’s son Caleb in a drug-possession case in 2016.
But Jaffe wasn’t a part of the conservative firebrand’s Senate campaign. Nor is he close to the family. In fact, Jaffe campaigned for the Democrat in the race, Doug Jones, a close friend of his for 30 years.
So Jaffe, who is Jewish, didn’t know what to make of a defensive comment made by Moore’s wife, Kayla, the night before the state’s hotly contested special election in December, that “One of our attorneys is a Jew,” as an apparent response to accusations of anti-Semitism.
“My reaction to that, irrespective of who they were referring to, was rather shocked,” Jaffe said in a phone interview. “I was certainly disturbed. Not personally, but as a member of a minority.”
Jaffe wasn’t alone: The episode drew jeers and criticism from a wide range of observers as the campaign neared its final stretch.
Jaffe says he doesn’t know whether Kayla was referring to him, although dozens of people sent clips of the remark and stories about the ensuing controversy, assuming it was him.
“I don’t know if they were referring to me or not, I really don’t,” he said. “All I know is that there have been a lot of people and news organizations trying to identify that person, the Jewish lawyer. They haven’t been able to yet.”
Besides the legal connection — the charges against Caleb Moore were dropped in 2016 after he agreed to enter a diversion program — Jaffe would be a strange reference point for the Moores. He said he did not have a personal relationship with Roy Moore, although he has known the former judge for about a decade professionally in the relatively small legal world in Alabama.
“I’ve never socialized with him,” Jaffe said.
Jaffe said he has known Doug Jones for 30 years, during which they worked together on numerous cases as lawyers in Birmingham. Jaffe was the master of ceremonies when Jones was inducted as a United States attorney in 1997. And during his friend’s Senate run, he handed out fliers, made phone calls and donated and raised money for the campaign.
Jaffe said he was standing next to Jones when his surprise victory over Roy Moore was announced and said he plans to attend Jones’s swearing in on Wednesday in Washington after being invited to a seat in the gallery of the Senate chambers.
“We’re pretty close,” Jaffe said. “We’re in frequent contact.”
Jaffe said he did not discuss Kayla Moore’s comments with Jones, figuring Jones had more pressing issues on which to focus.
Perhaps intended to rebut criticism of comments Roy Moore made about financier George Soros, Kayla Moore’s comments capped a contentious and wrenching campaign that had been galvanized, in part, by accusations that her husband had initiated sexual contact with teenage girls when he was an assistant district attorney decades ago.
Moore said that Soros, a frequent target of the far-right who is Jewish, was pushing an agenda that was “sexual in nature,” and was “going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going.”
Kayla Moore, speaking at a rally with her husband behind her, said that “Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews.”
“I tell you all this because I’ve seen it all, and I just want to set the record straight while they’re all here,” she said, waving to the reporters and television cameras in the room before making the comment about the attorney, whom she did not name.
Jaffe’s story has emerged in recent days in media accounts.
A native of Birmingham, the 67-year-old does not consider himself very religious but said that he is a member of one of the synagogues in town and that his Jewish identity is widely known in the city, which does not have a large Jewish community.
“We’re a pretty Jewish family,” he said.
In a recent piece for the Forward newspaper about Jaffe, Liz Brody, a Jewish writer from Alabama, said that Kayla Moore’s comments “drew national attention to our reality.”
“In Alabama, Jewishness is strange and delicate, and the Jewish attorney, by merit of his mention, has come to represent all the Jews of the state,” she said.
Brody wrote that she wondered what kind of Jewish lawyer would be working for Roy Moore, who has made his Christian identity a centerpiece of his far-right politics.
“Was this a New York Jew lawyer? A convert-to-Christianity lawyer? A zealous advocate in the office and a messianic Jew in the pews, praying to Jesus Christ?” Brody wrote.
Although Jaffe and Jones worked on numerous cases together, they also worked on opposite sides of the bench on the high-profile case of Eric Rudolph, who was convicted of the bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic that happened during Jones’s tenure as U.S. attorney. Jaffe, who has worked on dozens of capital punishment cases in Alabama and wrote a book critical of the death penalty, served as Rudolph’s lead attorney for 14 months, although Jones was no longer the U.S. attorney by the time Rudolph was apprehended.
Still, Jones paid close attention to the case, Jaffe said.
“Doug was instrumental to doing everything he could to making sure Eric Rudolph got the full measure of justice, whatever that included,” Jaffe said. “Doug and I have never discussed that.”
The two were together during Jones’s election-night party; Jaffe snapped a photo of Jones on his phone the moment the news of his victory was announced, he said.
“I was about as elated as anyone could be,” Jaffe said. “Doug’s lifelong ambition has been to be a U.S. senator. He can bridge the gaps between people. He’s a healer, he’s reasonable, and he’s exceptionally smart.”