New York celebrity lawyer 'perfect fit' for IMF chief
It's the kind of difficult case New York lawyer Benjamin Brafman thrives on. A high-profile client, seemingly long odds at the outset and the world's press eagerly hanging on his every word.
After putting himself through college, Brafman, a former assistant district attorney, has grown into one of New York's toughest and sharpest defense lawyers, earning a reputation for winning surprise acquittals often for celebrity clients.
Now he's back in the limelight as one of the lawyers for IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is facing seven counts for the alleged sexual assault of a chambermaid in a Manhattan hotel. The IMF chief denies all the charges.
"We believe this is a very, very defensible case," Brafman told the first court hearing Monday, refusing to be knocked back when the judge refused to bail Strauss-Kahn, one of the world's most powerful men.
Brafman, 62, was brought into the case early on Saturday, just hours after the news broke that the head of the International Monetary Fund had been escorted off an Air France plane minutes before take-off from JFK airport.
Strauss-Kahn was arrested, questioned for hours in a special victims unit, charged and then on Monday hauled into court, in a sudden fall from grace as he shared a bench with down-and-outs and petty criminals.
But Brafman has seen it all before. In the late 1990s, he defended the rapper Puff Daddy, Sean Combes, who was charged with gun possession and bribery charges after a shooting in a Manhattan nightclub.
Police found a weapon in the rapper's car, and brought charges. But with Brafman steering his case, the rapper, now known as Diddy, was acquitted.
Brafman also represented the rapper Jay-Z when he was accused of assaulting a record producer at another New York club. Jay-Z pleaded guilty in a deal and was given three years probation.
And later he was one of the lawyers who worked on the defense for pop singer Michael Jackson, who was eventually acquitted on charges of child molestation.
"I'm a take-charge advocate and a well-disciplined trial lawyer," Brafman told the New York Times in an interview a few years ago.
"You need to be able to pull rank and say no to a client. 'Not on my watch, it's not good for you or for the case and we're doing it my way!'"
An orthodox Jew, born to immigrant parents who survived the Holocaust, he grew up in humble circumstances in a Jewish district of New York.
He put himself through night school to get into college, and at one point worked as a stand-up comic to pay his way.
Unlike many of the big names on the legal circuit, he studied law not at one of the big name Ivy League establishments, but at Ohio Northern University.
After taking his first job at a major New York law firm, he moved over to the other side joining the prosecutors office in Manhattan. Turning the page back, Brafman decided to return to private practice and initially made a name for himself defending those from within the mafia mob circles.
Today, according to New York Magazine "he's developed a reputation as the man to have on speed-dial when you're in really big trouble."
And the courtroom is his stage. He is known to put defense witnesses at ease with his disarming, down-to-earth humor, while skewering the prosecution with his sharp cross-examinations.
Brafman is "the single best courtroom attorney I've ever seen," says CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin.
And Los Angeles lawyer Mark Geragos told CNN that Brafman was the "perfect lawyer" for the Strauss-Kahn case.
"First of all, because of the high profile nature of the case, he's clearly able to navigate the shoals of the media," Geragos said. He added Brafman had experience defending such cases and would be "perfectly attuned to understanding" the political nature of the case.
Brafman has already given a glimpse of the defense he intends to put forward on Strauss-Kahn's behalf, including shooting down police claims that the IMF boss had fled from the hotel shortly after the alleged sexual assault.
A witness will testify that the veteran French politician was heading to a lunch appointment and not fleeing a crime scene, Brafman told the court Monday.
The New York judge on Monday denied Brafman's plea to grant his client bail, turning down his offer to put up $1 million in cash and surrender the IMF chief's passport.
But undeterred, the feisty lawyer, put everyone on notice that these are just the opening shots in what could prove to be a very long legal fight.
"This battle has just begun," Brafman warned.
© 2011 AFP