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Some Defend Clients Better Than Others

One attorney won 89 percent of cases

By RICHARD WALLACE Herald Staff Writer

  • Miami Herald, The (FL)
  • October 28, 1991
  • Section: FRONT
  • Edition: FINAL
  • Page: 14A
  • Memo: DRUNK DRIVERS: BEATING THE RAP

They are heavy-hitting, high-percentage winners in one of Dade's most hotly contested legal arenas: drunk driving defense. And being a top-gun defender in the Dade road wars means giving up prisoners only reluctantly. "The approach I take generally is that you can win virtually any case if you work hard enough. It's a never-say-die attitude," said Robert Reiff, who won 85 of 95 misdemeanor DUI cases from 1986-1990, according to court records. Only one of Reiff's clients went to jail. "This area of law is so complicated and complex that it really gives people who understand the law and work hard at it the opportunity to be successful," Reiff said.

Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxxx, who ranked No. 2 in the statistics with successful defenses in 94 of 109 cases, has a similar, aggressive outlook. "Unless the guy is absolutely, hopelessly drunk, I will not plead him guilty," Xxxxxxxxx said. "I try my hardest on every case -- and that works."

Each of the hired law slingers said there is no single trick or technique that wins -- other than being well prepared. "Every single case is unique. Every case has got an angle or something that you can do or say," Xxxxxxxx said. Like Reiff, Xxxxxxx had only one defendant serve any jail time.

The DUI clients of many other lawyers do not fare so well in Dade. Among lawyers with at least 50 cases concluded in the period 1986-1990, the conviction rates for clients of all but the top lawyers ranged above 33 percent -- and for some lawyers, above 70 percent.

The name of South Florida's most famous DUI defense lawyer, Xxxxx, does not appear anywhere in the Dade statistical compilation. Xxxxx, however, contends raw numbers are misleading. "We believe that a team approach is most effective," Xxxxx said of his firm, Xxxxx & Xxxxx. "We have a law firm of nine attorneys who are devoted to the defense of drunk-driving cases. We try to put three attorneys on every case," Xxxxx said. Often, the primary attorney in a defense is not the one who signs the documents, thus becoming the attorney of record, Xxxxx said. And his own name is statistically invisible, even though Xxxxx plays a role in all his firm's cases, he said. "I do the initial interviewing and indicate the defenses to be used," Xxxxx said. In handling more than 4,000 DUI cases, his firm has only occasionally entered guilty pleas and has lost only 36 jury trials, Xxxxx said. Xxxxx is a large, imposing man who in recent years has not ventured into court to personally represent DUI clients.

Xxxx Xxxx is another well-known South Florida DUI lawyer. His fame is not quite equal to that of Xxxxx -- the subject of a 60 Minutes profile -- but Xxxx is a familiar figure on television. Xxxx advertises heavily, and his firm is a high-volume handler of DUI cases. Unlike Xxxx, however, Xxxx signed off 332 DUI cases from 1986-1990. According to Dade court records, a DUI case with Xxxx's name on it was virtually a 50-50 proposition. His clients were convicted 50.9 per cent of the time, the records show. Xxxx, however, disputes the validity of that count because over the years covered, many different lawyers have been attorneys of record for his firm, he said. "I don't think it's an accurate cross-section or fair representation of our firm, because you haven't included all of our cases," Xxxx said. He also said the figures do not reflect a recent strengthening of his staff. "I've gone through a number of attorneys, trying to get the best talent I possibly can. In fact, one of the persons working for me now was formerly an employee of Xxxxxx Xxxxx," Gold said.

Xxxx said he has tracked his firm's cases this year. Of 63 cases his firm has closed out, only 16 defendants were convicted, he said. Whatever a given lawyer or law firm's won-loss statistics might be, it seems clear that DUI defense is something of a South Florida growth industry.

Said Xxxxx, one of Dade's big winners: "If people don't learn not to drink too much and drive, they're going to keep us in business for a long time."

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