Nacchio trial could advance careers of lawyers involved
By Andy Vuong, Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007
Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike stand to benefit from
their involvement in the high-profile criminal insider-trading
case of former Qwest chief executive Joe Nacchio.
After landing a major victory for the government with Nacchio's
conviction on 19 counts of illegal insider trading, prosecutors
could garner a hefty bump in pay if they leave for private
practice. Or they may use the success to bolster their careers
And despite being on the losing end, the publicity generated by
the case could help local law firm Richilano & Gilligan secure
additional large-scale work, experts say.
"Generally, involvement in a high- publicity case is helpful to
the careers of the attorneys involved," said defense attorney
Dan Recht, former president of Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
"Often, a prevailing prosecutor will find lucrative
opportunities in private practice." Prosecutors Cliff Stricklin,
James Hearty, Colleen Conry, Leo Wise and Kevin Traskos haven't
indicated whether they plan to change jobs. But the path to
private practice is one well-traveled by former federal
Three of the four lead attorneys in the Justice Department's
successful prosecution of Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay -- Sean
Berkowitz, Kathryn Ruemmler and John Hueston -- eventually left
for private practice after the former Enron executives were
convicted of fraud and conspiracy in May 2006. (Lay's
conviction was vacated after his death in July.) The fourth
attorney -- Stricklin -- took over the Nacchio case.
Hours after the Skilling and Lay verdicts were announced,
Berkowitz reportedly said about his next career move, "I'm not
thinking about it tonight. But I know I can have any job I
Berkowitz, now a partner in Chicago with international law firm
Latham & Watkins, didn't return a phone call and e-mail seeking
"A lot of people do leave for private practice, especially after
they've done a big case, because there's often a feeling that
you've sort of reached a final challenge as a prosecutor," said
former federal prosecutor Sam Buell, now a law professor at
Washington University in St. Louis. Buell, who worked on the
Enron investigation for two years and left after Skilling was
indicted in 2004, said he wasn't tempted by private practice,
adding that being a professor gives him "the freedom to teach
and write about what I care about and what I'm interested in."
Others parlay their success into higher-level government jobs.
From 2001 to 2003, Michael Chertoff led the Justice Department's
prosecution of accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction
of justice and destroying documents connected to Enron's
collapse. The accounting firm ultimately shuttered after it was
convicted, though the Supreme Court later overturned the
After the case, Chertoff served as a U.S. Court of Appeals
judge, then was appointed as Department of Homeland Security
secretary in 2005 by President Bush.
Buell said high-profile cases are beneficial to attorneys,
particularly defense attorneys, for two primary reasons: name
recognition and experience.
"The more well-known you are, the more likely clients are going
to come to you with work," Buell said. "The other reason,
perhaps more important, is experience. A high-level case like
this in which heavy resources are invested on both sides is
going to be the pinnacle of trial practice."
Anna Garduno, a juror in Nacchio's case, said she was impressed
by prosecutors and their teamwork.
"I thought that the prosecutors were great," Garduno said.
"They were all very good and very professional."
She said it was obvious that Conry "worked really well with
The hard-charging style of John Richilano, Nacchio's lead local
attorney, was effective, Garduno said.
Richilano was combative from the start of his cross-examination
of the government's first witness, former Qwest
investor-relations director Lee Wolfe.
"You seem eager to get your story out," Richilano told Wolfe in
a stern voice. "Answering questions that were never asked."
The comment prompted U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham to
say, "Don't start arguing with this witness right off the bat."
"I thought Richilano was really good at what he did," Garduno
said. "I would just jump 'cause his voice would go up so high.
He was just brutal" during cross-examination.
The impact of the case on Herbert Stern, Nacchio's lead
attorney, is less clear. Stern, 70, had a stellar reputation
going into the case after spending years as a federal prosecutor
busting up political corruption. The response to his work
during the trial was mixed.
Garduno said Stern's five-hour closing argument went in too many
Staff writer Tom McGhee contributed to this report.
Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-954-1209 or