One thing the recently-disgraced politicians have in common—other than being horrendous decision makers—is their law degree. So, thanks to men like Blajogevich, John Edwards, and Kwame Kilpatrick, we thought it was time to reflect. We know these guys are sleazeballs, but are they the sleaziest lawyers of all time? Perhaps not. Here’s a look back at some of history’s biggest disgraces.
1John Dean, former White House Counsel to Nixon. He became deeply involved in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent cover up. He was referred to as the “master manipulator of the cover up” by the (FBI). He pleaded guilty to a single felony count in exchange for becoming a key witness for the prosecution. He was disbarred, but later became a respected commentator and author. We could have put many Nixon cronies on this list—Erlichman, Liddy, and even tricky Dick himself—but we put Mr. Dean here because, hilariously enough, he has the gall to currently teach an ethics course! But it’s not just any course. It’s about Watergate and is certified by the Illinois Supreme Court as part of the 24 hours of continuing legal education that Illinois lawyers must take every two years. We imagine it could be summed up by saying “do as I say, not as I did.”
2Clarence Darrow. Actually, considered one of the greatest trial lawyers of all time, but once upon a time, he belonged on this list of scumbags. The great Chicago trial lawyer argued the Scopes Monkey Trial and the Leopold-Loeb murder case while recovering from his indictment on two counts of bribery. He was acquitted in one trial and freed after a hung jury in a second. Broke and scandalized, Darrow rebuilt his reputation by becoming what muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens called “the attorney for the damned,” a champion of cases that others would not touch—including communists, anarchists, labor radicals and black civil rights advocates. So basically the lesson is: become the greatest trial lawyer of all time and people will forgive a little graft.
3Ex-U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales. Served under a disgrace in his own right: George W Bush. Here is a short list of reasons he made the list: (1) helped draft the Presidential Order which authorized the use of military tribunals to try terrorist suspects. (2) Drafted Executive Order 13233, making it possible for current and former presidents to assert executive privilege over the release of privileged presidential records. (3) Worked very hard to get around those annoying Geneva conventions on torture. (4) Played a controversial role in dismissal of 9 US attorneys and (5) threatened to charge the New York Times under the Espionage Act after they blew the whistle on the CIA’s illegal wiretaps of US citizens. Basically, just an all-around great guy.
4Joel Steinberg. Just an absolute monster. His name still gives chills to anyone from the Tristate area. A former New York criminal defense attorney, Steinberg attracted international media attention when he was accused of murder and convicted of manslaughter in the November 1, 1987, death of a six-year-old girl, Lisa, who he and his live-in partner and punching bag, Hedda Nussbaum, had illegally adopted. Steinberg was accused of hitting Lisa on the head and then not seeking medical attention for the child, supposedly because he was under the influence of crack cocaine. She was left on the floor for 10 hours. He was denied parole multiple times for never expressing any remorse.
After charges were brought against Steinberg, the New York Bar reviewed its records and found out that Steinberg did not leave law school early to join the Air Force, rather he was kicked out due to his failing grades. The revoked his bar exam exemption and he was immediately disbarred. Probably mostly because he never took the bar, but a little because he was a murderous savage. Steinberg was recently released from prison and still maintains his innocence. Yikes.
5Roy Cohn. Cohn became famous during the investigations by the Senator Joseph McCarthy into alleged Communists in the U.S. government, and also represented a very important figure of prosecution in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Federal investigations during the 1970s and 1980s charged Cohn three times with professional misconduct, including perjury and witness tampering. In 1986, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Cohn for unethical and unprofessional conduct, including misappropriation of clients’ funds, lying on a bar application, and pressuring a client to amend his will!
Get this: in this case in 1975, Cohn entered the hospital room of a dying and comatose Lewis Rosenstiel, the multi-millionaire founder of Schenley Industries, forced a pen to his hand and lifted it to the will in an attempt to make himself and Cathy Frank—Rosenstiel’s granddaughter—beneficiaries. The resulting marks were determined in court to be indecipherable and in no way a valid signature. Sadly, he died of AIDS, but insisted on his deathbed that it was liver cancer. He lost his law license during the last month of his life. At that time, National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart referred to him as “an ice-cold sleaze.” Clearly, you’re not very well liked if that’s the best eulogy they can come up with. On the plus side: he has been played in movies by both James Woods and Al Pacino, so he can take that to the grave.