Stricklin's work reflects his faith
By Greg Griffin, Staff Writer
Sunday, March 11, 2007
A judge's decision to reduce bail for a wealthy murder
defendant prompted federal prosecutor Cliff Stricklin to quit
his job and seek election to the Texas state bench in 2000.
Stricklin challenged the judge in a Republican primary and won,
propelled by public outrage over the judge's handling of the
case. It was the kind of moral issue, his friends say, that
motivates Stricklin, the son of a Baptist minister.
"The easy thing for Cliff to have done was to pick an open seat
or wait for open seat. But he chose the challenge," said Del
Williams, a corporate attorney in Dallas who met Stricklin
during the campaign and remains a close friend.
Stricklin has taken on successively bigger challenges since,
including a return to prosecuting for two Enron trials. One
case ended in disappointment for the government.
His latest challenge is leading a team of five prosecutors in
the government's case against Joe Nacchio. Stricklin's team
approach was indicated Friday with the news that Assistant U.S.
Attorney James Hearty will deliver opening arguments.
Stricklin 42, took over the prosecution in August, more than
five years into the case and just seven months before the trial,
which will take place in Denver.
Since Stricklin joined the case, the government has shored up
its rosters of witnesses and exhibits, and prosecutors have
worked long hours to prepare for trial. A replica of a 22-pound
peacock bass caught during a 2001 trip to the Amazon in Brazil
adorns his office wall.
He's known to drive old cars and wear cowboy boots to court. He
has a light Texas drawl and said "y'all" often during closing
arguments in the Houston trial of former Enron Broadband
Stricklin and his friends enjoy kidding around.
"He has upstanding morals and ethics," said Cary Williams of
Dallas, a friend since childhood. "Except that if you're
hunting with him, he claims he killed your bird."
U.S. Attorney Troy Eid named Stricklin his first assistant after
a nationwide search to replace Bill Leone, who returned to
private practice. Eid needed an experienced hand to take over
the Nacchio case. Stricklin wanted a new challenge and an
opportunity to improve his family's quality of life.
Stricklin and his wife, Robin, moved here with their two sons in
the fall and bought a house in Ken-Caryl in Jefferson County.
Robin stays home with the boys and does freelance Web design and
"It was a conscious decision about where we wanted to sink our
roots. I want to become involved in the community," he said.
"This is our home."
Stricklin has already taken the kids skiing five times. He also
took two weeks to travel to Malawi in southeastern Africa last
fall on a U.S. Justice Department program to help the government
there fight corruption.
Leaving Dallas was a big move for Stricklin, who is
well-established in the Texas legal community and Republican
He applies his faith to his work
His father, Gil Stricklin, is well-known in Dallas. He
worked for the Rev. Billy Graham in the 1960s and founded
Marketplace Chaplains USA, which supplies chaplains to
Friends said Cliff Stricklin is a devout Christian who applies
his faith to his work.
Attorneys in Stricklin's position make about $145,000 a year.
"He could be making multiples of what he is making, but he chose
public service ... with long hours, high pressure and time away
from his family," Del Williams said. "This is a characteristic
you see from Cliff time and time again. Whether it is rooted in
his faith or not, it is certainly consistent with his faith."
In the courtroom, Stricklin was known as a tough jurist and a
sharp prosecutor able to establish easy rapport with witnesses.
And though well-respected on the bench, he lost his seat to a
Democrat in 2004. His connections in law and politics came
through. He had worked with an Enron Task Force attorney who
recommended him for an opening in the Enron Broadband
prosecution in Houston.
The team lacked a Texas native. Stricklin took over jury
selection and questioning of some witnesses. He also handled
closing rebuttal argument, the prosecution's last words to the
"When Cliff came on, we thought we were going to trial in three
months. He had to learn it from scratch," said Lisa Monaco, a
prosecutor on the case who's now special counsel to the director
of the FBI. "It was an incredibly complicated, detail-laden
case involving complex technology and financial transactions.
A deft handler of "delicate" witnesses
Stricklin established himself as a deft handler of
"challenging" or "delicate" witnesses, colleagues said. He also
spoke well to the jury.
"He has an uncanny ability to boil things down to their essence,
even very complicated issues," Monaco said. "He understands
what resonates with a jury, and he focuses on that."
In his Enron Broadband closing, Stricklin said: "For every
stock sale that these men made, every dollar they made off their
stock sale, there's somebody buying that stock. .. The money
that lined the pockets of these men came from real people who
didn't have the advantage of the inside story."
That case ended in a hung jury, with no convictions. There was
blame to go around. The case dragged on for four months and was
highly technical; prosecutors made missteps, including showing
a video of an executive who had never actually been aired; and
the judge dismissed the jury after less than three days of
Stricklin escaped much of the blame since he entered late.
Dallas attorney Tony Canales, who represented one of the
defendants, said Stricklin wasn't responsible for the video
"We knocked the air out of them, and they had a hard time coming
back. But he had noting to do with that screw-up," he said.
Stricklin then joined the case against Ken Lay and Jeffrey
Skilling, which resulted in guilty verdicts. Again, Stricklin
handled jury selection and some witnesses. His ability to
connect with the defense's character witnesses disarmed their
testimony, said Enron prosecutor Kathryn Ruemmler.
"He has a really easy, comfortable manner in front of a jury.
He can just speak to folks," she said. "He's more relaxed than
your typical buttoned-up prosecutor. But it disguises a very
sharp, shrewd trial lawyer."