With IMF head, NYC lawyer lands another big case

AP News
Posted: May 18, 2011 3:10 AM
With IMF head, NYC lawyer lands another big case

He's come to the aid of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, ex-New York Giants star Plaxico Burress and, briefly, even the King of Pop.

Now Benjamin Brafman, one of New York City's most prominent defense lawyers, finds himself in another legal pressure-cooker: the sex-assault case against International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Defense bar brethren of Brafman _ a former prosecutor in the same district attorney's office now pursuing charges against Strauss-Khan _ say his background representing beleaguered celebrities has hardened him for the challenges ahead both inside and outside the courtroom. They described him Tuesday as both tenacious and unflappable under fire.

"He's been there before," said veteran Manhattan defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt. "He's certainly well-equipped to handle high-profile cases."

Added Lefcourt: "He's careful in dealing with the press. That's the key here. Lawyers sometimes get overwhelmed and sidetracked. Not him."

Brafman, 62, "is an absolutely wonderful and competent trial lawyer," said attorney Gerald Shargel, who recently defended the former television producer who tried to blackmail David Letterman. "He's certainly in the top tier of trial lawyers in New York and maybe the entire country."

Brafman declined to discuss his involvement in the Strauss-Khan case Tuesday, other than to say he was brought on as co-counsel for the jailed Frenchman by Washington, D.C., lawyer William Taylor, "who has known our client for many years."

Taylor has broad experience in civil and criminal matters in both state and federal court, according to a law firm website. He once represented Thomas McLarty, the former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, in the Whitewater inquiry.

The two lawyers "have worked on many important legal matters over the years," Brafman said.

An Orthodox Jew who is the son of Holocaust victims, Brafman was raised in Brooklyn and Queens. He graduated from Ohio Northern University College of Law, and served as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan in the mid-1970s before building a defense practice by taking on disgraced clients in headline-grabbing cases.

In 1998, Brafman stunned federal prosecutors in Brooklyn by winning an acquittal for Peter Gatien, a nightclub improsario who was accused of turning two of his Manhattan clubs into virtual drug supermarkets. A jury rejected the testimony of numerous cooperators who claimed drugs were openly sold inside the Tunnel and the Limelight, a former Sixth Avenue church converted into a club.

Combs hired him to fight gun-possession charges at a trial three years later that caused another media frenzy. Combs walked after a Manhattan jury found him not guilty of toting an illegal handgun into a crowded Manhattan hip-hop club and later trying to bribe his driver to cover it up.

In the Burress case, Brafman engineered a 2009 guilty plea in another gun case that helped his client avoid a minimum 3 1/2-year prison term. Instead, the one-time Super Bowl hero is serving a two-year sentence for a firearms charge stemming from him accidentally shooting of himself at a Manhattan nightclub.

Most recently, Brafman took on the ongoing corruption case of New York state Sen. Carl Kruger. Federal prosecutors allege Kruger pocketed more than $1 million in "a broad-based bribery racket."

Brafman also joined Michael Jackson's legal team in 2004 to defend the superstar entertainer against charges he sexually molested a teenage boy.

He left the defense before the case went to a trial where Jackson was acquitted. But in a television interview in 2009 shortly after Jackson died, Brafman said the experience left him with a sense of foreboding.

Jackson, he said, was "one of the loneliest people I've ever met."