Gerry Spence Opens for Fieger in MI Criminal Trial

Flamboyant attorney and legal analyst Geoff Fieger, perhaps best known for his defense of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, is on trial in federal court in Detroit. He and his law partner, Van Johnson, are charged with having employees at their law firm and others donate to John Edwards' presidential campaign and then reimbursing them, in violation of federal campaign laws. Fieger is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly concealing a memo and tampering with grand jury witnesses. (Background here.)

Gerry Spence, a legendary jury communicator, is representing Fieger. From his opening argument:


"The prosecution sees them only with one eye, and it's the evil eye," famed Wyoming defense lawyer Gerry Spence told jurors in his opening statement before a packed courtroom at U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Spence said powerful people at the Justice Department in Washington decided to go after Fieger, whom Spence described as a good man who fights for the little guy. Spence said the government sent 80 agents to conduct a nighttime raid on Fieger's firm and to question terrified employees in their homes in late 2005 to make a case against Fieger.

Spence also brought Osama bin Laden into his argument:

"You would have thought he was Osama bin Laden," Spence said, calling the case an abuse of justice.

"If the government can do this to Mr. Fieger," Spence added, "they can do this to any of us. ...

"We don't need the powers that be in Washington telling us what to do here," Spence said. "Thank God we have juries like you that don't have to answer to anybody."

Spence has been admonished by the judge for disregarding his ruling on whether federal law expressly prohibits reimbursement:

Spence told jurors the law doesn't contain any language about reimbursement. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Borman ruled that federal law does ban reimbursement.

While the jury was out of the courtroom Thursday, a visibly irritated Borman admonished Spence for disregarding his Wednesday ruling. When the jurors returned, Borman instructed them on the law and told them Helland works for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, not the Justice Department in Washington.

He also needs the occasional memory jog:

Spence, 79, who boasts that he has never lost a criminal case in 55 years of practice, addressed the jury in an animated, theatrical style but occasionally needed help from the defense table to recall names.

I think Feiger and Johnson are in good shape overall since the Judge has ruled they must have intended to violate the campaign law.

Yesterday, the Government called Fieger associate James Harrington to the stand. Even though testifying under a grant of immunity, his testimony helped Fieger and Johnson.

The prosecution’s lead witness in the case against Southfield lawyer Geoffrey Fieger testified today that he was proud to contribute $2,000 to John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign and wasn’t pressured to do so. “Absolutely, no way,” James Harrington IV, an associate attorney in Fieger’s firm, testified under cross-examination by Fieger lawyer Gerry Spence.

....Under questioning from Johnson lawyer Steve Fishman, Harrington said Johnson never did anything to suggest that the donation and reimbursement were improper and that he was stunned when agents confronted him with his $2,000 check during the raid.

“I don’t believe Mr. Johnson would have put me in harm’s way,” Harrington said, bolstering defense contention that Fieger and Johnson didn’t “knowingly or willfully” violated federal law.

The Judge has already instructed the jury on the requirement:

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman told jurors today that the men had to intend to break the law to be convicted, even though Borman has ruled that federal law prohibits reimbursements.

In case it's not already obvious, TalkLeft is rooting for Fieger and Johnson.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Why did the AG pick them? (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by BarnBabe on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 03:06:33 PM EST
    I am quite sure that this is practiced more than you would think in the big corporate world. Special bonus and such. If they had given the money to a political pac, would it then be legal? I mean, how do Oprah or Babs give their money?

    Fieger (none / 0) (#11)
    by cmugirl on Mon Apr 28, 2008 at 09:36:49 AM EST
    ran against the current AG for his office (if you're looking for a conspiracy theory!)  ;)

    Hahahahah (none / 0) (#1)
    by squeaky on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 02:42:45 PM EST
    In case it's not already obvious, TalkLeft is rooting for Fieger and Johnson.
    Good one and nice comeback to any (ex)Prosecutors in the audience who may enjoy questioning your positions.

    Good old country lawyer... (none / 0) (#3)
    by white n az on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 03:20:55 PM EST
    Spence...he's your buddy isn't he Jeralyn?

    Feiger must be confident of his partner's attorney to handle the issues of cross examination of the government's witnesses because I definitely was thinking that Spence was getting a little old for that.

    He is though, one of the more likable guys and his summation is likely to be one for the record books.

    Spence is a great lawyer (none / 0) (#5)
    by felizarte on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 04:30:52 PM EST
    spence's books are excellent (none / 0) (#6)
    by english teacher on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 05:01:48 PM EST
    it's been a while, but i really enjoyed "with justice for none" and another one he wrote the title of which i cannot presently recall.  probably ten years since i read them, but i distinctly remember the anecdote about him hugging the tree.  

    I don't know him personally (none / 0) (#7)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 06:13:49 PM EST

    Gawd (none / 0) (#4)
    by Steve M on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 03:50:37 PM EST
    Fieger doesn't deserve to be convicted unless he's guilty, obviously, but he's sure a disgrace to the profession either way.  Ugh.

    I'm a fan of both Fieger and Spence but (none / 0) (#8)
    by gyrfalcon on Sat Apr 26, 2008 at 07:43:48 PM EST
    what's the defense here, that Fieger and Johnson didn't know it was illegal to reimburse employees for political donations?  Seems unlikely, doesn't it?  Fieger's run for office himself, so it's hard to argue he didn't know the rules.  I hope they're not convicted, but I'm scratching my head trying to figure out the argument. Over-zealous, out-of-proportion prosecution of political enemies, unfortunately, isn't a convincing defense if the crime was actually committed.

    Anybody know?

    Y'know it's going to be good (none / 0) (#10)
    by scribe on Sun Apr 27, 2008 at 01:59:42 PM EST
    when the courtroom is packed and they have to turn people away.  Moreso, when the audience includes two federal judges who want to see Gerry Spence try a case.

    I have the video of him defending a murder case (in Oregon, IIRC) where the victim's spouse was seated next to the victim in a vehicle when the victim was shot, and the spouse was taking a picture of the defendant holding a literally-smoking gun.

    I watch it every now and again.

    Defendant was acquitted.