DISBARRED- The Series: Roy Cohn

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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

Cases of Coerced Confessions: Barry Beach

_DSC4851I recently read about Barry Beach, a man from Montana, who was convicted of the 1979 murder of 17-year-old Kimberly Nees, an outstanding young woman who was about to embark on her first year of university, until she was found in the Poplar River, bludgeoned to death.

Barry was like many young adults in the 70’s, dabbling in drugs and looking for his place in the world. During the Kimberly Nees murder investigation Barry was interviewed by the police, but nothing came of it.

He ended up in Louisiana at about the time that two young women were discovered murdered in their homes. One of the police investigators heard a rumour that Barry had been questioned in a murder in Montana and decided to bring him in for questioning, but not before the police contacted the Montana authorities to get the details of the Montana murder.

Barry was interrogated for many hours, a young man away from home and feeling very afraid of the situation he was in. Towards the end of the interrogation the lead investigators brought in their “closer”, a police officer with a reputation for closing cases, usually through confessions.

Ultimately, Barry confessed to the murder of Kimberly Nees and was extradited back to Montana where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

Ms. Nees had been beaten in her own vehicle, a crime scene that contained multiple unidentified prints, including a palm print in blood, finger prints in the car, and foot prints leading away from the vehicle to the Poplar River where her body was dumped.

No physical evidence and no DNA linked Barry to the crime, the only evidence was the confession of the frightened 18-year-old who had been threatened by Louisiana police that he would end up in dying in “old sparky”, Louisiana’s electric chair.

Criminologists have studied the phenomenon of false confessions, particularly those made by young people, and have been persuaded they are more common than once thought.

Barry protested his innocence and undertook multiple appeals, but the trial verdict stood, until “Centurion Ministries”, an innocence project organization, took up his case and secured his freedom in 2011. He was released from prison and became a well-functioning member of society, but his new life was short-lived. In 2013 the Montana Supreme Court overruled the judge who set him free and he returned to prison to serve out his sentence.

With the support of Montana’s governor and many other respected, high-profile individuals he applied to the Montana Pardon and Parole Board for clemency and his release, having served thirty years of his sentence. In June of 2014 the Board refused his application and he remains in prison.

Jim McCloskey, the director of Centurion Ministries is convinced, after 14 years of investigating Mr. Beach’s case, that he is the victim of a perverted miscarriage of justice.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Celebrities With Law Degrees

GEO CASUALLots of people have law degrees but never practice law, or they work as a lawyer for a short time and then start a new career. There are dozens of career politicians and writers who left the law to pursue other ambitions.

There are also well-known celebrities who obtained law degrees before they became actors, singers, TV personalities, or authors. Some of the more surprising include:

1. JERRY SPRINGER

Yes, the guy with the trashiest talk show on television graduated from Northwestern School of Law in Chicago, before he began his political career (Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio) or became the number one news anchor in Cincinnati, winning ten Emmys. He has hosted a variety of other shows, including “America’s Got Talent” and is the subject of “Jerry Springer The Opera” which opened to good reviews in the United Kingdom, won Best Musical in London’s Westside and has been performed in the U.S., Canada and Australia. There is reportedly 8,000
obscenities in the show and it is rife with profanity.

2. JOHN CLEESE

Cleese, one of the funniest comedic actors, best known as part of the Monty Python troupe and the harried innkeeper at Fawlty Towers, obtained his law degree from Cambridge. His writing, directing, and acting credits are prolific. Fawlty Towers was named by the British Film Institute as one of Britain’s Top 100 British Television Shows.

He remains active with TV and film projects and in 2010 went on the road with his “Alimony Tour”, ostensibly to earn extra money after his expensive divorce from his second wife, who was a psychotherapist. In 2013 Cleese toured Canada with his “John Cleese: Last Time to See Me Alive” show, which played to sold-out audiences and critical acclaim.

3. ANDREA BOCELLI

Everyone’s favorite opera singer earned his law degree at the University of Pisa and practiced law for one year before he launched his extraordinary career in opera. Born with limited eyesight he lost his sight completely at the age of twelve. Bocelli has sold millions of records and performed all over the world. His early mentor was Luciano Pavarotti and Bocelli sang at Pavorotti’s second wedding and at his funeral.

In 2010 he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an honour that pales in comparison to the accolades he has received from numerous countries, but particularly his home country of Italy. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 performing a recital of operatic arias. While popular with the public, opera critics have been less than kind to Mr. Bocelli, slamming his poor technique and shaky breath support.

4. JULIO INGLESIAS

Spanish singer Julio Inglesias, father of pop star Enrique Inglesias, attended law school in Madrid in the 1960′s. He has had a superlative career, producing 77 albums, recorded in 14 languages, selling over 300 million records.

His awards, honours and prizes are too many to list. According to Sony Entertainment, he is one of the top 30 recording artists in the world. In 2012 he performed a concert in Equatorial Guinea where tickets were sold for $1,000 each.

5. HOWARD COSELL

Legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell obtained his law degree from the New York University of Law and practiced as an employment/union lawyer in Manhattan. His clients included high-profile athletes including Willie Mays. Cosell was involved in Little League baseball and agreed to do a weekly radio show featuring these young athletes. He did the show for free for three years and then obtained a sponsor to entice ABC Radio to give him a sports talk show, which was the launching pad for his career as a sports journalist.

His relationship with Mohammed Ali brought him greater fame and fortune and he became a fixture on Monday Night Football.

Cosell was the first to admit he was arrogant and obnoxious and took pride in his nickname “the mouth that roared.” He died in 1995.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Revenge

_DSC4179 - Version 2A Supreme Court judge in New York recently referred to a divorce litigant as “despicable”. What could possibly garner this strong reaction from an otherwise cool, calm and collected judicial official?

Just before the litigant’s wife filed for divorce, her husband decided to come clean with the tax authorities and filed amended tax returns for 2004 to 2007, disclosing an additional $1.6 million of income from his contracting business.

As a result, he owed the government $1.2 million in taxes, a sum that was coincidentally equivalent to the value of the family home. He also made it very easy for the tax authorities by attaching to his amended tax returns details of the assets he owned, the bank who held the mortgage on the family home, and other pertinent collection information.

The wife was shocked and horrified because the law in New York, as in many other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, provides that a debt incurred during the marriage for the family will be a family debt that is sharable between spouses. Unpaid income tax owed on family income is considered family debt.

The couple had been married for almost fifteen years and had four children.

The New York Supreme Court considered the husband’s evidence of the large family debt and determined that the husband had made the disclosure, not because he was being audited or investigated, but because he wished to cause as much pain as possible to his wife.

The trial judge found that his conduct was malicious and revenge was his motive.

Unfortunately, for this husband, his plan backfired, as the court held that given the egregious circumstances, he would be solely responsible for the debt.

Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Wife, The Mistress and Two Wills

BarristerYears ago I attended the funeral of a dear friend who died much too early. His memorial service was both solemn and awkward. Seated in the front row of the church were his estranged wife, his current common law wife and his girlfriend. As you can imagine, the complexity of his personal life caused difficulties in settling his estate.

In a similarly difficult case, British real estate tycoon Chris John 47, died suddenly without a will, until two wills surfaced.

One of the immediate problems was that Mr. John believed he and his wife, Helen John, were divorced, but upon his early demise it was discovered that the final divorce order had never been pronounced, albeit they had separated seven years earlier.

As a legal spouse, with entitlement to his $6 million estate, the battle lines were drawn between Mr. John’s wife and his mistress, Gillian Clemo, against a backdrop of not one, but two wills.

John’s mistress miraculously located a will three days after hearing that her boyfriend was still married to his wife. Witnesses testified that Ms. Clemo collapsed on the floor when she learned that her boyfriend and his wife were not divorced.

Mrs. John also discovered a will, but when questioned by police readily admitted she had forged the will to ensure their 15-year-old daughter received her share of the estate. She also advised the investigators she was certain that Gillian Clemo had forged the will produced by her, as the signature on the will was not her husband’s.

Ms. Clemo’s “will” named her as the primary beneficiary of her lover’s estate and permitted her to reside in his luxury home in Cardiff, Wales until Mr. John’s daughter reached the age of 27 and then it would belong to her. Ms. Clemo swore an affidavit that stated the will was genuine and she had witnessed Mr. John’s signature on the will.

Unfortunately for Ms. Clemo, the will was riddled with errors including the misspelling of Mr. John’s daughter’s name.

A forensic document examiner testified at Ms. Clemo’s trial that the signature was not Mr. John’s and a Welsh jury convicted Ms. Clemo on charges of forgery. She awaits her sentencing but is not expected to receive jail time.

With no will, the estate will be divided between Mrs. John and her daughter.

As American writer Ambrose Bierce observed: “Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate.”

STORY UPDATE

In 2011 Gillian Clemo was convicted of forgery and fined approximately $10,000. Ms. Clemo appealed the decision to no avail. However, in September of 2013 the Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body set up to review cases where there may be a miscarriage of justice, agreed to assess her case on the basis of new evidence. That evidence included a fresh handwriting analysis and the discovery of a copy of a will identical to the one allegedly forged by Ms. Clemo. With this new development, Mr. John’s estate is again in limbo.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang