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Nacchio trial could advance careers of lawyers involved
By Andy Vuong, Staff Writer
Denver Post
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 in government.

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 prosecutors.

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 want."

Berkowitz, now a partner in Chicago with international law firm Latham & Watkins, didn't return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

"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 verdict.

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 Stricklin."

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 different directions.

Staff writer Tom McGhee contributed to this report.

Staff writer Andy Vuong can be reached at 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_5780864