The Greitens trial: Governor assembled high-powered legal team
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of three stories profiling the main legal figures involved in the trial of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. A profile of the prosecution ran Tuesday. A profile of the judge will run Thursday.
The felony trial of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, which starts Thursday with jury selection, has the makings of an epic courtroom skirmish.
As one attorney put it, the case is an All-Star Game for the legal community, and a sizable amount of talent is batting for the governor.
Greitens was charged in February with felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a semi-nude photo without the permission of the woman with whom he had an affair in 2015, and then transmitting it so it was accessible by computer. He has admitted infidelity, but pleaded not guilty to the crime.
Attorney Edward Dowd’s signature is on that not-guilty plea, which was entered Feb. 22. A member of a distinguished St. Louis legal family, Dowd was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri from 1993 to 1999. After that, he served as special counsel to the committee that investigated the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Former U.S. Senator John Danforth led that committee. Danforth is now a partner at Dowd Bennett, the eponymous law firm Dowd founded alongside Jim Bennett in 2006.
Jay Kanzler, a partner at Witzel Kanzler and Dimmitt, worked with Dowd and Bennett early in their careers. Though they take different approaches to life and the law, he said, the two men are immensely talented attorneys.
“Ed’s got that sense of gravitas,” Kanzler said. “When Ed walks into a conference room, or a courtroom, people respect him and they trust him.”
Bennett, Kanzler said, is trying to win whatever is in front of him, be it the court case or the golf game.
“You don’t get to be Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court clerk without a tremendous talent and a level of confidence that puts you above all of your peers. And that’s what Jimmy’s got.”
Jim Martin is no slouch either, said Paul D’Agrosa, a former defense attorney who joined the U.S. attorney’s office this year. Martin was the director of investigative operations for the Waco committee and a longtime federal prosecutor who briefly served as U.S. attorney in St. Louis in 2004.
“Jim is a brilliant lawyer in my opinion,” D’Agrosa said. “We’re close friends, so you can take that into account, but I went up against Jim many times when he was a federal prosecutor and I was defending federal cases. He’s very smart, very analytical, and I would want him on my defense team if I were the governor.”
D’Agrosa is also close to Jack Garvey, a former alderman from south St. Louis and a retired circuit judge. According to D'Agrosa, Garvey brings to the team a valuable relationship with the man presiding over the trial.
“St. Louis is a small town, if you will,” D’Agrosa said. “Jack and Rex Burlison are friends. They were friends on the bench. It’s always good to have someone in the courtroom on your behalf who knows the judge personally as well as professionally.”
Also on the team is Michelle Nasser, a Dowd Bennett partner and former federal prosecutor in Chicago.
Politics and pizzazz
There are several attention-grabbing elements of Greitens’ defense team. The political makeup of Democrats defending a Republican is one. Dowd is a prolific Democratic donor, and Garvey was a Democratic alderman.
“This is an important case, and a big case,” D’Agrosa said, “and quite frankly, it could be a statement from these very prominent defense lawyers on the Democratic side that perhaps Kim Gardner has made a mistake here, and maybe they think they’re benefiting their party by pointing that out to her in the courtroom.”
Kanzler noted it was Republican attorney general John Ashcroft who appointed Martin to serve temporarily as the region’s top federal prosecutor.
The entire team is well-known in legal circles, but one name stands out to the general public — Scott Rosenblum, St. Louis’ “attorney to the stars.” He has represented everyone from rappers to football players to priests.
“In this town, if you have to bet your life, and you have a house to put up for collateral for his fees, you hire Scott Rosenblum,” Kanzler said.
That’s a sentiment echoed by civil rights attorney Bevis Schock, who has known Rosenblum for years. The two men will often refer cases to each other.
“The job of a criminal defense lawyer is to do everything they can for that client short of getting thrown out of court or committing an ethical violation,” a line Rosenblum excels at walking, Schock said. And he and Dowd have skills that complement each other.
“Scott’s going to be the guy picking the jury, doing the opening, doing the cross. I think Ed’s going to be there, but I don’t think Ed’s going to try this case,” Schock said. “It’s sort of over to you Houston after the lift-off.”
Rosenblum’s hire surprised D’Agrosa a bit, as he generally isn’t friends with the other members of the team. “But he brings to the table that kind of pizzazz in the courtroom, and credibility that this is a serious case that requires a serious defense. And if we actually have to try this in front of a jury, Governor Greitens wants Rosenblum picking that jury,” he said.
How much is too much?
The team has been aggressive, filing dozens of motions that challenge every part of the case. The strategy has earned them some wins. In April, Burlison granted a defense request to do a second deposition of two key prosecution witnesses and the state’s private investigator, agreeing that circuit attorney Kim Gardner’s office had improperly delayed turning over evidence that could benefit Greitens.
But at least one fellow defense attorney thinks they’ve crossed a line.
“Attacking the prosecutor’s office is standard,” said Jerryl Christmas, a lawyer and activist. “But I think we have to maintain our professionalism, and there were a lot of personal back and forth, and innuendo about incompetence and not being real attorneys, and that bothered me.”
Christmas called the tactics a PR campaign, and said the defense attorneys are likely doing the best they can with the case they have.
The legal arsenal doesn’t come cheap — Dowd’s quoted his hourly rate at $525 — and it’s not clear how Greitens is covering the cost. A legal defense fund established for him this yearraised no money in its first quarter of existence, although the governor has access to several secretive nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors. Some are also questioning why the governor needs so many high-powered lawyers
“Because this has the feel of a political prosecution as much as anything, it’s important that he have a credible defense team to meet and defeat the charge,” D’Agrosa said.
Schock said in his experience, the skill of a legal team makes the biggest difference in a criminal case.
“When I think about people who spend decades in prison and people who don’t, sometimes it’s who their lawyer is, not whether they’re guilty,” he said.
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann