CHICAGO (AP) — A high-profile Chicago lawyer was acquitted Monday of coaching clients and witnesses to lie, with the federal judge who oversaw the rare trial saying some practices that prosecutors questioned were, in fact, the mark of good legal work.
The FBI office raid and prosecution of Beau Brindley created unease among area attorneys, some of whom feared it could prompt lawyers to back away from zealous defenses of clients.
An emotional Brindley bit his lip and produced a broad smile after Judge Harry Leinenweber announced the verdict at the bench trial, a surprise because federal prosecutors win convictions in the vast majority of cases.
“This is a victory for all criminal defense attorneys,” Brindley told reporters later.
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The 37-year-old quickly made a name for himself in Chicago after moving from Iowa, boasting about aggressive legal strategies on behalf of purported mobsters and drug traffickers.
The allegation at the core of prosecutors’ case was that Brindley employed question-and-answer scripts in trial preparations. They alleged he wrote out false answers, then instructed clients and witnesses to memorize them.
Leinenweber was unconvinced. Not only were Q-and-As common tools, he said, but he regularly used them himself when he worked as an attorney to help ensure clients’ accounts of events didn’t vary widely during months of pretrial prep.
“The use of Q-and-As is not the least bit improper,” he said.
Brindley’s trial was the talk of Chicago legal circles for months.
“People realized the whole defense bar was on trial, and it was,” said Ed Genson, a lawyer for co-defendant Michael Thompson, who worked for Brindley and was also acquitted.
The case was so sensitive that Chicago’s U.S. attorney’s office recused itself, turning it over to prosecutors from Milwaukee. That office declined comment Monday.
Brindley’s prosecution spooked attorneys who could envision scenarios where something they said to clients could be misconstrued, said Chicago lawyer Michael Helfand, who had no link to the case.
“In the short term, lawyers might think, ‘Am I at risk?'” he said. “But things will go back to usual after a few years.”
Prosecutors had said Brindley encouraged lies in half a dozen cases. Lawyers aren’t obliged to be fully candid about their clients’ deeds, they argued, but the justice system is grounded in the presumption people don’t outright lie under oath.
Leinenweber said it was clear some of Brindley’s clients did lie, but that the government didn’t prove Brindley coached those lies or even knew they were lies.
On the stand himself, Brindley talked about his aggressive style, which he said included opposing plea talks with the government. He insisted before trial that his overriding message to clients was always, “You have to tell the absolute truth.”
Follow Michael Tarm at http://www.twitter.com/mtarm.