Care for Coffey?

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, January 04, 2011 No Comment(s)

I spent some time with Kendall Coffey, Esq. recently and a longer essay will appear in a future issue of Gold Coast. But for the moment, let’s plug his new book, Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion. As the title suggests, it has to do with lawyers playing the press. The first chapter goes from Scott Rothstein to Joan of Arc, a pretty good historic wingspan. If that sounds like a readable book, it is. Coffey deals with many cases, from the O.J. Simpson trial to the recent Rod Blagojevich. Even in cases on which he was on the losing side, he points out how the cases changed law, mostly for the better. In general he values the First Amendment, which made me like him right away. He obviously likes reporters, even though not all his own press has been wonderful.

As a former U.S. attorney, he has been watching the corruption scandals breaking on the Gold Coast, first in Palm Beach County, now in Broward. Is Miami next, he wondered. When the name Mike Satz came up, in terms of the abuse he has been taking for ignoring the den of thieves in his own neighborhood, Coffey was sympathetic. He said most investigations of local corruption are done by the feds, for the simple reason that state attorneys are part of the same system that keeps them in work. They get campaign funds from the same people who they might have to indict in a few weeks. They stand up to be recognized at the same social functions with people they know should be in jail. That last illustration is mine, not Coffey’s, but I know he would agree with it. In contrast, the federal people tend to move around, and almost always avoid the spotlight. In our magazine's occasional list of the Gold Coast’s most powerful people, not one federal figure has been included.

Coffey’s book is filled with names we all know. He mentions Roy Black a number of times –interesting because both men have similar styles. Low key, respectful, almost courtly. A jury just likes them from the go, especially when they have read about them in the papers. Forget that nonsense about jurors not knowing about a sensational case in advance. That is one of the themes of this book. It makes it as good a read for lawyers as it is for those of us in the fourth estate. By the way, what are the three estates in front of us?

He’s not local, but the name Richard Sprague is in the book. Sprague, still active in his 80s, is a brilliant Philadelphia lawyer, who in the late 1970s went to Washington to head the re-investigation into the President Kennedy assassination. He came under immense pressure after he started to look into the CIA. If he could have survived the pressure, much of it from the press, we would know for sure today that our government murdered an American president. For more on that, read Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, which started out as articles in Gold Coast. Nothing wrong with self-plugging, is there?

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