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High-Profile Defense Attorney Accused of Practicing Law in RICO Enterprise May Represent Himself

Posted Aug 30, 2011 8:55 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Updated: Once a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer best-known for his trial work on behalf of major gang figures and rap artists, Paul Bergrin has been jailed since 2009 on charges that he ran his law practice as part of a criminal racketeering enterprise.

Allegedly, the former prosecutor even helped arrange for the murder of one witness and conspired to murder another to avoid seeing his clients convicted, routinely using the mantra, "No witness, no crime" as a signature phrase, recounts the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, as he nears a scheduled October trial in the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations case, Bergrin is thinking about serving as his own defense lawyer. And that might even be a good idea, one expert tells the newspaper.

Three of the government's main cooperating witnesses are people Bergrin presumably knows well--his mistress and alleged top criminal associate, his former law partner and a drug kingpin ex-client. All have pleaded guilty, and Bergrin, even though he faces a potential life sentence if convicted, arguably might be the best man for the job of cross-examining them, according to the article.

"The cliche is that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client," said law professor George Thomas of Rutgers University. But Bergrin, he said, could be the exception that proves the rule.

"The more I think about it, the more it makes sense," Thomas told the newspaper, adding: "This may be a smart move on his part."

The federal judge overseeing the Newark case, however, has a different view, reports the Record.

Praising Bergrin's defense attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, U.S. District Judge William Martini urged Bergrin to reconsider, telling him “It would be very foolish to go on your own.”

Martini is giving Bergrin time to consider whether he wants to withdraw a motion to proceed pro se. Bergrin had said he wanted to do so due to financial constraints.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "When Is a Law Firm Allegedly Part of a RICO Criminal Enterprise? 3rd Circuit Explains"

ABAJournal.com: "Expanded New RICO Indictment Accuses Alleged Rogue Attorney of More Law-Firm-Related Crimes"

Updated on Aug. 31 to include information from the Record.

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