A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: ALAN EAGLESON

_DSC4179 - Version 2Alan Eagleson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Law School and was a prominent Toronto lawyer and Member of Parliament in Ontario before he began his lengthy career as agent, promoter and hockey guru extraordinaire.

His accomplishments in the world of hockey were pivotal to the growth and stature of professional hockey and its players. It was Eagleson’s impetus to form a union for players that birthed the National Hockey League Player’s Association in 1967.

He became the NHLPA’s first executive director and held that position for 25 years. By 1979, Eagleson was providing financial services to some of hockey’s biggest stars, encouraging them to invest wisely in order to retire financially secure.

It was Eagleson’s foray into internatonal hockey, notably the 1972 match between Russia and Canada, that cemented his now international reputation. His esteem, in his clients’ eyes, was multiplied when he took on one of the off-ice hockey officials in the 1972 game insisting that the referees had missed a Canadian goal.

As matters escalated, soldiers of Russia’s Red Army began to converge around Mr. Eagleson. Canadian fans jumped from the bleachers to intervene on Eagleson’s behalf. After this confrontation he turned on his heels and “fingered” the Soviet hockey fans as he walked back to the bench.

As Eagleson’s power base grew, suspicions arose as to the inner workings of the NHLPA and several American sports journalists began investigating Eagleson and the NHLPA in 1989/1990. By this time, Eagleson was a living legend in Canada and vague allegations of mismanagement were ignored by Canadian journalists, many of whom owed favors to Eagleson. This year also saw Eagleson obtain the Order of Canada and admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The beginning of Eagelson’s demise occurred when evidence revealed that he had been playing around with player’s pension funds such that when Bobby Orr retired he was almost bankrupt, with significant unexpected tax liabilities.

Even more egregious was Eagelson’s skimming of funds from international games, money that was used to provide a lavish lifestyle for Eagleson. The players were told that their salary from international play would be deposited to their pension accounts. Instead, Eagelson embezzled the money for his own use.

Eagleson also defrauded injured players who sought to rely on their insurance funds when their playing days were over. He charged extraordinary fees alleging that it was only through his negotiation with insurers that the players received their settlements. None of it was true.

Eventually in 1993 Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran with the story and began their own inquiries. In 1994 Eagleson was indicted in the United States for racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud.

It was only after one of Eagleson’s clients wrote a book outlining his criminal conduct that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began their own investigation and in 1996 Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and theft.

Eagleson managed to avoid extradition to face the US charges for three years, using his considerable clout with Canadian authorities. He later plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in a Boston court and was fined $700,000.00

Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and embezzlement by the RCMP and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His disbarment followed, together with the withdrawal of his Order of Canada and his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To the surprise of many Americans, Eagleson was pardoned in Canada in 2005. Canadian pardons are a dime a dozen, since the central criteria is to “keep your nose clean” for five years.

Just another tale of greed that ruined Eagleson’s reputation and his life. The question is: Why do the most successful fall prey to this avarice?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it, it is never enough.”
Janwilliam van de Wetering, Dutch writer

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

What If Lawyers Had Written the Ten Commandments?

_DSC4851Here’s a few clever quotes about the learned and noble profession of law:

1. Imagine the appeals, dissents and remands if lawyers had written the Ten Commandments.
Harold Bender, Theologian

2. LAWYER: A professional advocate hired to bend the law for a paying client; for this reason considered the most suitable background for entry into politics.
The Cynic’s Dictionary

3. In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the Halls.
Lenny Bruce, Comedian

4. My daddy is a movie actor and sometimes he plays the good guy and sometimes he plays the lawyer.
Actor Harrison Ford’s son

5. Lawyers are: Those who earn a living by the sweat of their brow-beating.
James Huneker, American composer and music critic

6. The ideal client is the very wealthy man in very great trouble.
John Sterling, British author

7. A lawyer is someone who writes a 10,000 word document and calls it a “brief”.
Franz Kafka, German novelist

8. He who has said “Talk is Cheap”, never hired a lawyer.
Author unknown

9. Lawyer’s Creed: A man is innocent until proven broke.
Author unknown

10. Be frank and explicit with your lawyer….It is her business to confuse the issue afterwards.
Author Unknown

11. Make crime pay. Become a Lawyer.
Will Rogers

12. I’m trusting in the Lord…and a good lawyer.
Oliver North

Is there anything nice anybody has ever said about lawyers? God Bless Abraham Lincoln:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker a lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good person. There will still be business enough.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why I Support Canada’s Proposed New Law on Prostitution

BarristerOn Tuesday I will make submissions to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Canada’s new prostitution laws, which passed second reading several weeks ago, and will surely become the law of the land, perhaps with some amendments.

As many of you know, I was counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Attorney General v. Bedford and one of the few voices in the Supreme Court of Canada that urged that prostitution not be legalized.

Of course, we all know that the law criminalizing activities related to prostitution was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada last December, thus opening the door for our federal government to create new law, taking into account the necessity for it to pass constitutional muster.

The new law does just that. It decriminalizes prostitution for the women and girls that trade in sexual services, but makes it illegal to purchase sex in Canada, thus targeting customers (johns) and those who seek to exploit (pimps) the mostly female, often aboriginal victims of the sex trade. It permits the selling of sexual services so long as it is not conducted in the vicinity of children 18 or under. It also forbids the advertisement of sexual services.

The basis of my objections to the legalization of prostitution is founded on one of Canada’s underlying principles, that respect for the human dignity of each person is foundational to our society, a dignity whose inherent value was confirmed by our highest court in the Rodriguez case (euthanasia) and finds expression in the 1949 United Nations Protocol on the trafficking of humans, a convention signed by Canada which provides:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of a person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

The view that prostitution subordinates and victimizes women and girls is not particularly popular, but I have seen it first hand when I lived on Granville Street in the early 1970′s and in Vancouver’s west end in the 80′s. The image of a “happy hooker” is a Madison Avenue gimmick that has no basis in reality.

When my husband, Doug, ran the Vancouver Vice Squad, I saw again the squalor and exploitation of young, addicted woman, both tragic and poignant.

To those who say that legalization is the only answer, one only has to look at those countries who have based their social policy on sex work as a legitimate job with benefits paid and tax collected.

Perhaps the best example that the harms inherent in prostitution are not alleviated by legalization is the State of Victoria in Australia where prostitution was legalized in the 1990′s.

It was said that legalizing sex work would assist in eradicating the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion, and combat violence against prostitutes.

How wrong they were…violence was not eliminated, street prostitution was not curtailed as they naively expected, working conditions were no safer than before, prostitution escalated and turning sex work into a legitimate business opportunity for women and girls did not dignify or professionalize prostitutes.

Instead there occurred massive expansion, particularly in the illegal sector with unlicensed brothels. Women were not empowered to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, as they could not compete with the businessmen who took over the brothel business. Street prostitution was not eliminated as street workers had a host of social problems including addictions, mental illness, and an inability to be hired by legal brothels because of their lifestyles.

Canada’s new prostitution bill addresses many of the safety concerns identified by the Supreme Court of Canada, but more than that, the tenor of the law does not accede to the notion that prostitution is acceptable and legitimate in a free and democratic society.

In my view, prostitution not only harms the women and girls involved but also undermines the social fabric of Canada. It is too easy not to try to provide a way out for our mothers, sisters and aunts who are trapped in this degrading practice. It is a basic issue of human rights.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- The Series: Roy Cohn

10950859361151CDP

Roy Cohn was a Jewish lawyer from the Bronx who gained fame and later notoriety as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in his investigation into Communist activities in the 1950′s. Son of a judge and graduate of Columbia Law School at the age of twenty, Cohn had to wait until he was twenty-one to begin his legal career as a prosecutor in the Department of Justice offices in Manhattan.

Cohn worked on the Alger Hiss trial, an American lawyer, accused of being a Soviet spy, and was on the team of prosecutors who obtained espionage convictions and the death penalty for Soviet spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in 1951. Cohn often told others that it was his cross-examination of Ethel Rosenberg’s brother that sealed the convictions. He also bragged that it was his personal recommendation to the judge that the death penalty be imposed on the Rosenberg’s.

In 1954 Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation chose Roy Cohn over Robert Kennedy to act as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, the decision apparently made to avert any accusations of anti-Semitism. Several years later McCarthy and Cohn were investigated for the zeal they employed in the McCarthy hearings, including their condemnation of both communist sympathizers and homosexuals. Cohn bore the brunt of the criticism, while McCarthy’s career lay in shambles.

Cohn left the Department of Justice and went into private practice for thirty years, acting for high-profile clients such as Donald Trump, Mafia figures Tony Salerno and John Gotti, Studio 54 owner Steven Rubell, the Roman Catholic Diocese in New York and the New York Yankees Baseball Club.

In the 1970′s and 80′s, federal investigators charged Cohn with professional misconduct, perjury, witness tampering and financial improprieties involving city contracts and private investments, but he was never convicted.

However, in 1986 a five member panel of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division disbarred Roy Cohn for unethical conduct, misappropriation of client funds and pressuring a client to amend his will. The “will” incident happened in 1975 when Cohn attended upon a dying, comatose, multimillionaire client in hospital; lifted his hand, placed a pen in it and had him make a mark on a will that benefitted Cohn and his client’s granddaughter.

The official stripping of his license to practice law occurred in the last month of Cohn’s life in August 1986 at the age of 59. Mr. Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 but kept his illness a secret. It was reported that Mr. Cohn’s goal was to die completely impecunious, owing money to the U.S. tax authorities. He apparently succeeded.

Roy Cohn’s life and legacy survives in today’s popular culture. In the award winning “Angels in America”, written by Tony Kushner, Cohn was played by actor Al Pacino as a hypocrite haunted by the image of Ethel Rosenberg as he lays dying from AIDS. Characters modeled after Roy Cohn have also appeared in The Simpson’s, The X-Files, a Kurt Vonnegut novel and a song written by New Yorker, Billy Joel.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee

Transgendered Widow Sues for Life Insurance Proceeds

GEO#1It’s over ninety degrees in Texas but it’s going to get a lot hotter. A court battle is heating up over the estate of Thomas Araguz in Wharton, Texas. Araguz, age 30, was a fire captain in the Wharton Fire Department before he lost his life in a blaze on a local chicken farm on July 4, 2010.

Araguz’s life insurance policy of $500,000 should be distributed to his wife of two years, Nikki, and his two children from a previous marriage, however, Araguz’s parents and ex-wife are asking a court to block the distribution and anul Mr. Araguz’s marriage to Nikki Araguz, because she was born male and had sexual reassignment surgery. If that occurs, the children will receive the entire life insurance policy proceeds, presumably to be managed by the children’s sole custodial parent, Araguz’s ex-wife.

The family is relying on a case decided in Texas in 1999 where the court held that same-sex partners cannot marry and the State of Texas does not recognize gender reassignment.

Nikki was born Justin Perdue in 1975 and claims that her husband knew about her gender reassignment and supported her during reconstructive surgery. The problem is that earlier on, Mr Araguz’ ex-wife was challenging Mr. Araguz for custody of their two children and to present the best case in court, both Thomas and Nikki Araguz swore under oath that Mr. Araguz knew nothing about her previous life as a man.

Now Nikki says that they both lied to the court in order to receive a more favourable result in the custody action. Public opinion in Texas is mixed but most people believe the money should go to Nikki. I believe a fair result is the division of the proceeds equally between the two children and Mr. Araguz’ widow.

UPDATE:

In 2011 the Texas Court ruled in favour of the Araguz family and against Nikki Araguz. However, in April 2014 the appeal court reversed the decision and ordered a new trial with a stipulation that Ms. Araguz cannot be prejudiced by her change in gender.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: F. LEE BAILEY

10950859361151CDPSome lawyers achieve international recognition whether through their representation of high-profile clients, their legendary oratory skills, or their transition from law to politics.

We live in a culture that idolizes the successful and the famous and yet as Phaedrus the Roman fabulist said “Success tempts many to their ruin.”

This aphorism is nowhere truer than in respect of some of Canada and America’s most celebrated lawyers. Lawyers held in the highest esteem for their skill and knowledge, but eventually stripped of their credentials and barred from the practice of law.

The first subject in this series on disbarred lawyers is F. LEE BAILEY:

Bailey was a criminal defence lawyer and legal superstar known for his representation in 1965 of the Boston Strangler, Albert deSalvo. DeSalvo was convicted of numerous sexual assaults but never tried for the strangulation deaths of thirteen women, despite the confession he made to Bailey.

He also represented Dr. Sam Sheppard in 1966 on appeal from his murder conviction in the death of his wife. Sheppard’s “bushy-haired stranger” defence failed at his first trial, however, his appeal to the United States Supreme Court succeeded on the basis that Sheppard’s trial resembled a “carnival” and was tainted by non-sequestered jurors and the trial judge’s public declaration: “Well, he’s guilty as hell. There’s no question about that”.

Sheppard was acquitted at his second trial after serving ten years of his sentence. The Sheppard case was said to be the basis for the popular television series “The Fugitive” with David Janssen and the movie with Harrison Ford.

Other high-profile clients included Dr. Carl Coppolino, convicted in the death of his wife, Patty Hearst of Symbionese Liberation Army notoriety, Captain Medina for his 1971 My Lai Massacre court martial and O. J. Simpson.

Many pundits say that it was Bailey’s cross-examination of Mark Fuhrman that sealed Simpson’s acquittal.

In 1994 Bailey and ROBERT SHAPIRO acted for Claude Duboc, an international drug trafficking kingpin extradited to Florida. Part of Duboc’s plea deal was that he would turn over all his assets to the federal government. These assets included stocks in a Canadian company called Biochem valued at $6 million. By the time the government moved to recover Duboc’s assets, the stock had increased in value to $14 million. Bailey had previously placed the stock in his account and used it as collateral for personal loans. He also used the interest on the investment to finance his expensive lifestyle, claiming that the stocks were payment for his legal fees. He refused to turn the stock over to the government.

Bailey was censured by the Florida Supreme Court and served six weeks for contempt of court. He eventually reimbursed the government almost $20 million. In 2001 he was disbarred by the State of Florida for five years and ordered to close his practice within 30 days. The State of Massachusets removed Bailey from their roll of licensed attorneys the following year.

Today Mr. Bailey is chairman and CEO of a productivity and management company and is on the speaking circuit for a fee of $10,000.00. From time to time he also appears as a legal commentator on television and radio. He has tried for several years to regain his practice license but says he has no desire to practice criminal law.

As a 12-year-old I read Mr. Bailey’s book “The Defence Never Rests” and was mesmerized by his war stories and trial tactics. He was a hero of mine.

Perhaps Will Rogers was correct when he said “Heroing is one of the shortest-lived professions there is.”

UPDATE: In 2012 Mr. Bailey passed the bar admission exam in the State of Maine and sought admittance to practice as a lawyer. The Maine Board of Bar Examiners reviewed his case and determined he was not fit to practice law given his past issues in the States of Florida and Massachusetts. On appeal, the tribunal found that the only impediment to allowing him to practice was an outstanding tax debt of $2 million dollars. His lawyer filed an application to reconsider Bailey’s application and he was cleared to obtain a license to practice law in Maine, however, in April 2014 an appeal decision stifled his opportunity to become licensed in the State of Maine. Today he is not licensed to practice law in any state.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang