Legal History

Bootlegger tried to peel off $30K in cash to pay lawyer after 1931 trial victory

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When a bootlegger went on trial in Troy, N.Y., in the Christmas season of 1931, on charges of kidnapping and assaulting a driver who wasn’t part of his organization, then-Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt had was hoping to put Jack “Legs” Diamond away for good.

But the popular gangster, known for handing out bills from the wad of cash he carried, was cheered as he walked to the Rensselaer County Courthouse each morning. And he had hired two top lawyers, Daniel H. Prior of Albany, who got the trial moved to Troy, and Abbott Jones, a well-liked former district attorney there. As expected, they won an acquittal for their client, E. Stewart Jones Jr. tells the Albany Times-Union. He is the grandson of Jones and a third-generation lawyer in the firm the grandfather founded in 1898. A framed photo of the historic trial hangs on the wall of the law office.

After the verdict was announced on Dec. 17, Diamond took out his roll of bills, ready to pay Jones’ legal bill of $30,000. But Jones told him to celebrate the courtroom victory and settle the bill the next day, recounts his grandson. In the wee hours of the next morning, Diamond was slain in a still-unsolved homicide, shot three times as he lay passed out in the bed of a rooming house. A local historian has suggested that the killing, which made international headlines, was orchestrated by a rival political boss.

At news of the client’s death broke, a runner was sent from the law firm to try to get his mitts on the $30,000. But it was too late–all of Diamond’s money had been stolen, Jones tells the newspaper.

The loss, which he estimates would amount to some $500,000 today, given the inflation that has occurred in the 82 years since the trial, provided an expensive lesson in law practice management, he says. “In a criminal defense case, you always get the money up front.”

A page on the E. Stewart Jones Law Firm website provides further information about its history.

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