When The Lawyer Becomes The Object Of Prosecution
For more than 30 years, Charles Daum made a living by defending people accused of run-of-the-mill crimes. Then he met a charismatic Washington, D.C.-area man charged with distributing cocaine.
What happened next is a plot worthy of a television crime drama.
The accused drug dealer, Delante White, turned the tables and helped convict his own defense lawyer of manufacturing evidence and putting on false testimony to help the drug dealer's case.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the Justice Department pursued the unusual case because Daum crossed the line. "You do not get to manufacture evidence," Breuer said. "You do not get to suborn perjury. You do not get to have people purposefully lie and mislead.
"And that's what we believe occurred in this case and that's what Mr. Daum was found guilty of."
Some of the most potent evidence turned out to be phone calls that White made to his friends and family members from inside jail, where all inmate calls are recorded as a matter of course.
Take this call, from September 2008. While White is on the line, from inside jail, his longtime girlfriend, Candice Robertson, calls the lawyer's office and gets his secretary.
"Mr. Daum there?" Robertson asks.
The secretary replies that she is still waiting for Daum to come in.
"OK, tell him I'm going to come this morning because I went to New York to get the stuff that he want me to get," Robertson says.
The secretary repeats the message, as she jots it down: "You went to New York to get what he wanted you to get."
"Yes," Robertson confirms. "Tell him I got a 4-3."
That stuff the defense lawyer wanted her to get was a pair of men's Gucci boots, size 43 — a decoy — one size smaller than a pair the police photographed in White's home. The size 43 boots wouldn't fit on White's size 45 feet.
Justice Department prosecutors say the fancy boots were just one part of an elaborate scheme to point the finger away from White. The prosecutors in the narcotic and dangerous-drug unit accused Daum and a mother-daughter pair of private investigators of directing White's friends and relatives to reconstruct items police had found in the family's apartment, including a razor, a digital scale, and chopped-up white bar soap they pretended was crack cocaine.
The idea behind the far-fetched scheme was apparently to take photos of the staged scene, to make it appear as if White had nothing to do with the drugs. Instead, his defense was that his brother Jerome was responsible. The jury couldn't reach a unanimous decision in the September 2008 trial, voting 11 to 1 in favor of conviction.
But something about the case made prosecutors suspicious. When they probed deeper, their attention turned to the actions of Daum and the private investigators, Daaiyah Pasha and her daughter, Iman.
At his own trial this year, Daum argued that the plot was cooked up by White himself, because White was facing a mandatory 20-year prison sentence and the only way to reduce it was to cooperate with the Justice Department.
But a judge didn't buy that argument, and convicted Daum.
In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said White "lied often and well" and called his girlfriend, Candice, "a total disaster" as a witness. But the judge ruled that despite their serious credibility problems, there was "simply no way" White could have orchestrated the whole plot from inside a jail cell.
Bernie Grimm has been a defense lawyer in Washington for more than 25 years. He defended one of the private investigators working for Daum. He says he is worried about the chilling implications of the Daum case.
"It's very dangerous when ... you're representing somebody and you actually think the government's involved in listening to those conversations or the government's going to turn your client one day against you," said Grimm, who defended one of the private investigators in the case. "So what that engenders is a lot of distrust between the lawyer and the client right off the bat."
The Justice Department never offered a motive or reason that Daum and his private investigators might have crossed the line. The judge said Daum was getting only $6,000 to defend White and $6,000 more if the case needed to be appealed.
"Sad to say, it is often difficult to understand why ordinary people commit criminal acts," Kessler wrote in her opinion. "That fact does not change or weaken the conclusion that the government has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that [Daum] has committed the crimes with which he is charged."
Steve Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, didn't want to talk about the particulars of the Daum case. But he said there are many reasons for defense attorneys to be skeptical.
"Of course, you never see or hear of prosecutors being prosecuted if there's an instance where they have knowingly used perjured testimony," Benjamin said. "And that's one thing that is troubling to the defense bar, is what sometimes appears as a double standard."
But Benjamin said he agreed with the Justice Department on one key point.
"It would make no sense whatsoever to present false testimony," he said. "If you do that you're a fool; if you do that, you're relying on a cheap trick to try to subvert the truth."
Daum is trying to get his conviction on obstruction of justice and subornation-of-perjury charges overturned, arguing that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that would have helped his defense. But that's a long shot.
At his sentencing, scheduled for November, he faces as many as 10 years in prison on the obstruction charges alone. He's also in line to lose his license to practice law.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.