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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