Thursday, September 17, 2015

Roger M. Adelman, R.I.P.

Legendary Washinton, D.C. lawyer Roger M. Adelman, one of the finest lawyers I have ever known just died at age 74.
A former Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted John Hinckley for the attempted murder of President Reagan, and won a conviction against Florida Congressman Richard Kelly in ABSCCAM (the only Republican convicted in ABSCAM, Kelly stuffed $25,000 in his suit pockets, asking the undercover FBI informants, on-camera, "Does it show?"
Mr. Adelman was a partner at Kirkpatrick &; Lockhart (now K&L Gates) in 1987-88, when I met and worked with him.
He debriefed me on corruption in Anderson County, Tennessee, along with his junior partner, Ned I. Miltenberg, and his paralegal: we met nightly to pore over a roomful of documents (in a dedicated conference room called "The War Room").
I worked my "day job" (for U.S. Department of Labor Chief Administrative Law Judge Nahum Litt and Judge Charles P. Rippey), and then would walk up 20th Street and down M Street to K&L, helping them in a huge pro bono case.
Our mission: defense of my friend and mentor, Anderson County (Tennessee) District Attorney General James Nelson Ramsey, whom corrupt, evil good-ole-boys wanted to disbar because of his outspokenness.
I told them everything I knew from work as Appalachian Observer Editor, 1981-1983: I imparted the essence of East Tennessee corruption, answering questions, guiding them through personality, politics, corruption, payoffs, and documents, answering questions at dinner and back at The War Room.
A chronology of nearly 200 pages was produced to help understand the contours of the deeply dysfunctional political and judicial system in Anderson County.
I explained to Roger that Anderson County was not unlike what Alexander Hamilton said of New Jersey: "A cask tapped at both ends." Only in the case of Anderson County, it was the coal industry at one end and the nuclear weapons industry at the other.
I guided them in the political factions in quo and helped Mr. Adelman et al. write a Brandeis brief defending lawyer First Amendment rights. General Ramsey and Roger Adelman were both members of the Dartmouth Crew during the 1960s, and their friendship lasted for decades. When Ramsey's enemies thought they had him licked with bogus Bar complaints, Roger Adelman stepped in and saved the day, saving General Ramsey from disbarment, personally arguing the case before the Tennessee Supreme Court. See Ramsey v. Board of Professional Responsibility, 771 S.W.2d 116 (Tenn. 1989).
I fondly remember Roger's humor, zeal, will and skill and the genial but intense way with which Roger approached his missions, whether as a prosecutor or as a defense lawyer: in his office, Roger once showed me a notebook binder for just one of 500 search warrants for wiretaps and listening devices that were obtained by the U.S. Attorney in the Pizza Connection heroin case (for just one mobster's Porsche).  Roger inspired my later work as Legal Counsel for Constitutional Rights at the Government Accountability Project and in private practice, representing whistleblowers in complex cases.
In 1982, U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert told The New York Times, "Roger routinely handles the most difficult cases."
After K&L, Roger later worked on tobacco class action litigation and Pacific U.S. territories wage theft cases, among others, in private practice.
Roger Adelman loved the law, loved life, loved jogging and loved his Philadelphia Phillies.
We need better prosecutors going after white collar criminals and corruption, and more honest lawyers like Roger Adelman.
Articles on Mr. Adelman may be read here(Washington Post obituary) and here(Washington Lawyer "Legends in the Law" article) and here (1982 New York Times "Man in the News" profile).
UPDATE:  The New York Times obituary is here, stating inter alia:

Roger Adelman, Government Lawyer Who Prosecuted Reagan’s 1981 Assailant, Dies at 74

SEPT. 18, 2015

Roger M. Adelman, a government lawyer whose unsuccessful prosecution of John W. Hinckley Jr. in the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and his press secretary, James S. Brady, led to significant changes in the law governing the insanity defense in criminal trials, died on Sept. 12 at his home in Washington. He was 74.

The cause was complications of congestive heart failure, said Daniel E. Toomey, a friend who worked with Mr. Adelman in the United States attorney’s office in Washington.

Mr. Adelman was a senior prosecutor in that office when Mr. Hinckley shot the president on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton hotel, where Reagan had just addressed labor leaders. Mingling with onlookers, Mr. Hinckley opened fire with a revolver as Reagan left the hotel, wounding Mr. Brady, a District of Columbia police officer, a Secret Service agent and, finally, the president, whom Secret Service agents hustled into his limousine.

Mr. Brady, who was shot in the head, sustained brain damage and was partly paralyzed. He died in August 2014, and the Northern Virginia medical examiner, 33 years after the shooting, ruled the death a homicide. At the trial, lawyers for the defense argued that Mr. Hinckley lived in a fantasy world, obsessed with the film “Taxi Driver” and its young star Jodie Foster, whom he had hoped to impress by assassinating the president.

Mr. Adelman argued that Mr. Hinckley, despite his obsessions, had not acted on impulse but had carried out a carefully considered scheme. “This was not a random or thoughtless act,” he told the jury on the opening day of the trial. Rather, he said, it was “planned, thought out, calculated.”

In his closing argument, Mr. Adelman said: “The time has come for John Hinckley Jr., for the first time in his life, to take responsibility for what he’s done. He can’t avoid responsibility for shooting President Reagan.”

The jury found Mr. Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, a decision that shocked the public and lawmakers across the country. He was sent for treatment to St. Elizabeths, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, where he has been confined ever since.

In 1984, in direct response to the verdict, Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which set a higher bar for the insanity defense in federal courts.

Previously, defendants could be found not guilty by reason of insanity if it could be shown that, because of a mental disease or defect, they could not control themselves well enough to obey the law or could not tell the difference between right and wrong. Under the new law, lack of control was no longer a defense.

“The Hinckley verdict had a huge impact on insanity defense law,” Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who has written extensively on the law and mental health, said in an email. “In the direct wake of the verdict, several states abolished the defense, and well over half the states significantly reduced its scope. Since Hinckley’s trial, the insanity defense has never been the same.”

Roger Mark Adelman was born on June 25, 1941, in Norristown, Pa., where his father, Louis, and his mother, the former Mary Butz, ran a retail carpet store. He played football and basketball at Norristown Area High School. At Dartmouth College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1963, he was a varsity rower.

After receiving his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, Mr. Adelman served in the Army, which sent him to its language school in Monterey, Calif., to learn Russian.

On completing his military service, he began working for the United States attorney’s office in Washington, prosecuting homicides, robberies and kidnappings, as well as white-collar crime and some of the earliest organized-crime cases under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, statute.

As part of the F.B.I. sting operation known as Abscam, he helped prosecute Representative Richard Kelly, a Florida Republican who had been videotaped accepting $25,000 in bribe money from undercover agents who he thought were representatives of an Arab sheikh hoping to buy political influence.

“At trial, he claimed he took the money not because he was corrupt but because he wanted to turn in the man to the F.B.I. who had offered him the money,” Mr. Adelman told the magazine Washington Lawyer in 2007. “As it turned out, the man who paid him the money was an undercover F.B.I. agent. Not surprisingly, that defense did not get too far with the jury.” Mr. Kelly was found guilty of bribery and conspiracy at his 1981 trial and served 13 months in prison.

In 1988, Mr. Adelman became a partner in the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart (now K&L Gates), specializing in criminal defense work. He briefly assisted Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel, as he investigated possible ethical violations by President Bill Clinton’s administration in the firing of seven employees of the White House Travel Office. Travelgate, as it was known, evaporated when Mr. Starr declined to bring charges.

In 1997, Mr. Adelman started his own law firm, specializing in white-collar defense work and class-action litigation against tobacco companies. He taught evidence and criminal procedure at the Georgetown University Law Center for 25 years before retiring in 1998.

In May, the Council for Court Excellence gave him its Justice Potter Stewart Award for his contributions to the administration of justice in Washington.

Mr. Adelman, who leaves no immediate survivors, told Washington Lawyer that serving as an assistant attorney with the United States attorney’s office was “the best job a trial lawyer can have.”

When asked to explain, he said: “Well, it starts with the fact that as an assistant U.S. attorney you can stand up in court and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I represent the United States.’ There are few other places in life that you can do that, especially at 28 years old.”

A version of this article appears in print on September 19, 2015, on page D8 of the New York edition with the headline: Roger Adelman, 74, Government Lawyer Who Prosecuted Reagan’s 1981 Assailant.

A memorial service will be held in the future at the United States Courthouse in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Adelman was feted in May at the Potter Stewart award, as reported in Bisnow:

What Do Hinckley's Prosecutor and A Prison Book Club Have in Common?

Legal legend Roger Adelman and the Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop were honored at the Council for Court Excellence's 19th Annual Justice Potter Stewart Award Dinner in the Organization of American States. It was a moving moment when elite lawyer Roger Adelman got a standing ovation. Among those applauding was Dick Thornburgh (right), the former Pennsylvania governor and US Attorney General, who presented Roger with the Justice Potter Award. The two top attorneys met decades ago working at the firm that's now K&L Gates. Roger, a former AUSA of 18 years who's tried more than 280 jury trials, is well known as the chief trial prosecutor of attempted Reagan assassin John Hinckley.

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