Few criminal lawyers know their way around the New York legal system better than Benjamin Brafman, famed for helping celebrities in serious trouble and chosen by Dominique Strauss-Kahn to defend him on charges he attempted to rape a New York hotel maid
Brafman is known for either winning cases at trial or negotiating deals.
He represented pop king Michael Jackson in a child molestation case in 2004 before stepping aside, and New York Giants football star Plaxico Burress for carrying a gun into a nightclub that went off when it slipped down his pants. And he won a not guilty verdict for rapper "P.Diddy" Sean Combs, on illegal weapons and bribery charges in a nightclub brawl and shooting that was witnessed by over 100 people.
"Most people who come to me are in really, really desperate situations," Brafman, 62, said in a recent interview with a legal education group.
His latest high-profile client, the International Monetary Fund managing director, was hauled off a plane at John F. Kennedy airport on Saturday and charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid at a luxury hotel in New York City. Brafman, who is representing Strauss-Kahn along with Washington criminal defense lawyer William Taylor, told Reuters that his client "will plead not guilty."
Brafman was an assistant Manhattan district attorney for four years before entering private practice in New York City, where he earned a reputation for his strong representation of celebrities.
For Burress, who faced at least 3 1/2 years in prison, Brafman negotiated a plea bargain that limited the sentence to two years.
For Combs, he won an acquittal, and burnished his own credentials as a trial lawyer.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sean 'Puff Daddy" Combs," he said during the trial, according to a book about Combs called "Bad Boy." "You can call him Sean. You can call him Mr. Combs. You can call him Puff Daddy. You can him just plain Puffy."
But, Brafman told the jury, you cannot call him guilty.
Many cases that Brafman works on don't make their way to the courtroom. For several years he represented international fugitive Viktor Kozeny. In 2005, federal prosecutors charged Kozeny with bribing government officials in Azerbaijan over a deal to privatize a state-owned oil company. But prosecutors have been unable to extradite Kozeny from the Bahamas. It's unclear whether Brafman still represents Kozeny.
Brafman said he was brought in to represent Strauss-Kahn by Taylor, a partner at white-collar defense specialist Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington. Taylor and Brafman both played roles in the indictments of class-action attorneys from the firm once known as Milberg Weiss, who were charged with paying kickbacks to plaintiffs. Taylor represented the firm, which avoided conviction, while Brafman represented one of its founders, Mel Weiss, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months in prison in June 2008.
In a recent interview with Lawline.com, a legal education website, Brafman said he has become good at keeping his clients "alive and functioning" when their world is collapsing around them.
"I think I've talked more people out of committing suicide than any psychiatrist in the world," he said.
By Andrew Longstreth