Everyone says former WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers doesn’t have a chance of winning his trial for allegedly directing the largest accounting fraud in U.S. corporate history. But his lawyer, Reid Weingarten, says, “I think I have a shot. I really do.”
The blue-jean clad, greying but boyish, Steptoe & Johnson partner says it with a gleam in his eye. Says it with confidence, not braggadocio. And you begin to wonder: What is he going to do? Or, maybe you begin to believe, just like the juries believed in the trials of former Tyco General Counsel Mark Belnick, former Teamsters president Ron Carey, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and others.
Those trial outcomes helped to propel Weingarten onto the rich and rarefied list of the top five white-collar criminal defense lawyers in the country, or, contends his best friend, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder of Washington’s Covington & Burling, the premier white-collar trial defense attorney in the nation.
Weingarten is not the stereotypical white-shoe, big-firm lawyer. He walks like a boxer eager to get into the ring. He talks like, well, steak and beer. He believes “my own bullshit.” He chafes at young prosecutors who think “their poop doesn’t stink.” And he hones in on a complex, document-ladened corporate scandal with the intensity and precision of a laser beam and the commitment of an Olympic marathoner.
Belnick, acquitted July 15 of charges of stealing millions of dollars in unauthorized bonuses and loans, said two words describe Weingarten: “total commitment.”
“When Reid Weingarten is preparing a case, and I’ve litigated for nearly 30 years myself, I have never seen a lawyer more totally committed to the task at hand,” he explained. “If there is such a thing as going above 100 percent, he goes above 100 percent when that commitment requires him to prepare for cross-examination or direct examination.
“He not only absorbs facts like a sponge quickly, but he understands where they fit in a mosaic just as quickly.”
Belnick recalled that after Weingarten gave “one of the most brilliant opening arguments I have ever heard in a courtroom,” Belnick walked back to his wife, who was at trial every day, and she said, “I have no hesitation that this man has our lives in his hands.”
And after the precision directs and the cross-dissections are done, Weingarten, according to associates and opponents, generally walks away from trial well-liked by judges and prosecutors.
Today, his client list reads like a who’s who of alleged corporate wrongdoing: WorldCom, Tyco, Rite Aid, Enron, Archer Daniels Midland, Drexel, Salomon Brothers and on and on. But what does he really love to do? Public corruption cases.
“The corporate stuff I’m doing is post-Enron,” said Weingarten. “I didn’t know what a compensation committee was. I couldn’t tell the difference between a 10-K and a 10-Q. I know now. Before that, I had a claim to fame in public corruption. I like it better.”