A Reputable Trial Lawyer Who Leads the Pack Attorney Robert Reiff is a known authority & voice in the legal community.

Nancy Grace

Nancy Grace for Wednesday, June 1, 2005, CNNHN

Aired June 1, 2005 - 20:00:00 ET
NANCY GRACE, HOST: The trial of two jumbo-jet pilots takes off as evidence mounts they partied hearty, drinking till nearly 5:00 a.m. before landing -- crash landing -- behind the wheel. I`m talking the cockpit, people, of a jetliner full of unsuspecting passengers. How do you know your pilot over Memorial Day didn`t do the same thing?

Switching gears, to Miami, Florida. Standing by is DUI defense lawyer Bobby Reiff and WIOD Miami-Dade reporter Al Warnell. We are talking about the two pilots on trial for getting a snootful and then landing themselves in the cockpit of a jumbo jet plane full of innocent passengers.

To our reporter. Al, bring me up to date.

AL WARNELL, WIOD MIAMI-DATE REPORTER: We had the vice president of operations, flight operations, for America West on the stand today. He`s the guy that fired the two pilots. And basically, what he said was the fact that they violated company policy doing the drinking or alleged drinking, and they also violated FAA rules. And that`s the reason why they were fired.

But the defense attorney in cross-examination brought out an interesting point. He said, Was it a fact that six months ago, there was a similar case that happened at America West airlines with another pilot? And what happened in that particular instance? And this gentleman indicated -- his name is Joseph Chronic (ph) -- by the way. He indicated that this pilot wasn`t fired. So they said...

GRACE: Wait. This pilot wasn`t what?

WARNELL: He wasn`t fired.

GRACE: OK. Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute! To DUI defense lawyer Bobby Reiff. Bobby, what do we care in this case about what happened to a pilot six months ago who had been drinking? I care about this case.

BOBBY REIFF, DEFENSE ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN DUI: Well, it shows a pattern. It shows, did they fire these people because they embarrassed the airline, or did they fire them because what they did was wrong or illegal? I mean, again...

GRACE: But what does that have to do with this case?

REIFF: Well, that`s part of the issue here. What does this all have to do with the case? And the answer is nothing. And I think this is a problem for the state because once again, I think they overstretched their hand. I mean, it may be -- and this is arguable -- whether or not FAA regulations are relevant in a criminal trial. That, at best, is arguable. What are the U.S. -- the America West guidelines for their pilots is totally irrelevant.

GRACE: OK. I got you. So you`re saying the state is going too far in proving its case. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On July 1st, 2002, Mr. Hughes (ph) and Mr. Cloyd (ph) rode with three America West flight attendants from the Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Drove to the airport, isn`t that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s my understanding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did any of the flight attendants make any report indicating Mr. Hughes or Mr. Cloyd was intoxicated or under the influence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the best of my knowledge, they did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRACE: Back to Bobby Reiff, DUI defense attorney in that jurisdiction. Three separate individuals said they smelled the pilots. This is a video introduced in front of that Florida jury. Just think about it, everybody. These two guys, you`re seeing them, they partied until about 4:30 AM. According to their room key, they staggered into their hotel room around 5:00 AM, and then they made a morning flight. As they went through the metal detector, some of those security officers got a whiff as they were clutching their Starbucks coffee -- hello!

REIFF: Hello?

GRACE: ... and stopped them. Who just said "Hello" back? Was it you, Bobby, or...

REIFF: Actually, you make a comment about...

GRACE: Bobby...

REIFF: ... Starbucks coffee. You`ve already given me a hard time about the Starbucks, but...

GRACE: Yes, because you pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee!

REIFF: No, no, no.

GRACE: And I don`t know where you got raised, but that`s a little steep for me. But let`s get back to the trial. Three people smelled the pilot! Hello!

REIFF: What does it mean, Nancy?

GRACE: It means they were drunk!

REIFF: No, no, no, no, no.

GRACE: It means they had been drinking shortly before the flight. That`s what it means.

REIFF: No, it means they consumed an alcoholic beverage sometime that morning, period, end of story!

GRACE: Bob, they blamed it on their mouthwash. How lame is that?

REIFF: Listen, guess what`s in your mouthwash? Alcohol.

GRACE: OK. You know, Debra Opri, help me out here. Even you, Debra Opri, would not fall back on the lame defense, it was mouthwash.

OPRI: Yes. No. Let me say this because this is falling over the employment laws, as well. They have policy guidelines that they have to follow as part of their employment. And I can assure you, somewhere buried along in that employee handbook, and somebody better get it into evidence, there is a conduct, a code of conduct.

GRACE: It`s called bottle to throttle.

OPRI: And it`s called you don`t drink within so many hours of reporting for work.

GRACE: You`re darn right. We`ve got to go to break. But Debra, I believe it`s eight hours, bottle to throttle.

OPRI: That`s right.

GRACE: No can do. Got to take a break. We`ll all be right back. We are live in Florida. Please stay with us

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Captain, was the (INAUDIBLE) operator going to fly this airplane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he was not, obviously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were the flight attendants going to fly this airplane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they were not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And were the 117 passengers on board going to fly this airplane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does this breath sample indicate to you that Captain Cloyd was under the influence of alcohol?

OFFICER HAROLD RUFFNER, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes, it does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once you were finished collecting these samples, did you come to an opinion as to whether co-pilot Hughes was under the influence of alcohol?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection. Calls for conclusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Overruled.

RUFFNER: Yes, ma`am, I did.

QUESTION: And what was that conclusion?

RUFFNER: That he was under the influence of alcohol.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRACE: Welcome back, everybody. I`m Nancy Grace. We are live in Florida with the latest on the former America West pilots on trial for boozing it up before they got behind the wheel of a jumbo jetliner. One of them -- Al Warnell, correct me if I`m wrong. One of them was .08 and one of them was .09. In Florida, thanks to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the limit is .08. It used to be 1.0. So they have surpassed the state laws for drinking and driving on the highway. Why should this be any different?

WARNELL: Because in the state of Florida, Florida officials consider an airplane a vehicle, just like a car, so they`re on the same level as a person who`s driving a car and same level of intoxication.

GRACE: I see. So the same level does apply for FUI, flying under the influence. So Bobby Reiff, what`s the defense?

REIFF: Oh, there are many defenses here. In fact, one of the issues that they have been raising is whether or not they were operating the aircraft at the time. In fact, there was a report this evening that the juror who had been dismissed from this jury, in her opinion, thought they were not operating the aircraft.

GRACE: You know, you just brought up a good point. Al Warnell, WIOD Miami-Dade reporter, why was the lady juror booted from the jury?

WARNELL: Well, last Thursday, the judge gave them an extended Memorial Day holiday, and as they were leaving the courtroom, this juror made the comment, Don`t drink too much. And I guess that was a direct -- the defense attorneys took -- took, you know...

GRACE: Offense at that.

WARNELL: Yes, offense to that, and basically, they asked that this juror be removed. She`s the only female juror on that particular jury panel.

GRACE: Lisa Wayne, was the defense attorney just too sensitive?

WAYNE: Well, I wish I could have been in the courtroom. I don`t know. Was she looking at the defendants and saying, Don`t drink too much, or she was looking at the lawyers and saying that?

GRACE: I thought she said it to the jury. Al, who did she say it to, Don`t drink too much?

WARNELL: Well, she was saying it to the jury, but it was supposedly heard...

GRACE: Uh-oh!

WARNELL: ... in the courtroom.

GRACE: Lisa Wayne, these defense lawyers are just way too sensitive.

WAYNE: You know, it can be a bad sign. I mean, what`s the defense lawyer -- you`re right, we are sensitive. And the defense lawyers thinking to themselves, She`s already come to the conclusion someone drank too much, and maybe it`s a joke, maybe she`s being snide, but I can`t take a chance. So I understand that.

GRACE: Yes, I get it, too. Debra Opri, defense attorney -- Debra, the fact -- this theory that Bobby Reiff has come up with, talk about parsing words -- no offense, Bobby Reiff. I know you win a lot of cases. But come on! They weren`t operating the plane? Just because the security managed to pull the jumbo jet back before they took off!

OPRI: We talked about the operation of the plane. The bottom line is, once you take control, you take control. I want to say one thing on the jury. If I am on the jury and one of my own...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God help us.

OPRI: ... this far in, that jury is going to turn on that defense counsel. And you know what? He should never have done it. He should have laughed it off. Unless they were looking straight at the defendants. Right, Lisa?

WAYNE: It`s a really, really good point. They`re looking at the defendant and making those kind of remarks, you have a problem.

OPRI: Then it`s a problem, yes.

GRACE: You know, she`s right. She`s right, Dr. Saunders. Jurors form some kind of camaraderie. They form a bond when they`ve been on the case for a while. And if they know that one lawyer or the other throws one of their fellow jurors off, they don`t like it. What do you think?

SAUNDERS: Well, it certainly makes sense. They`re an isolated group. They have a very special responsibility, and I think they must bond in order to endure the kind of decisions they have to make.

GRACE: Take a listen to this, guys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If somebody has a drink 7 hours and 59 minutes before, and they want to go play golf or watch football or anything else, does it matter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it matter if they had the drink 7 hours and 59 minutes...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they`re not going to operate an aircraft? If they`re going to play golf?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In that case, it doesn`t matter, I suppose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what matters here is you can`t drink within eight hours if you`re going to operate an aircraft?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s the obvious intent of the regulation, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn`t matter if they`re going to go anywhere?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRACE: Back to Bobby Reiff, DUI defense attorney down in Florida, where this case is being tried. Bobby, are you serious? Your defense is that even though they stunk of alcohol, which they blamed on mouthwash...

REIFF: Only one of them.

GRACE: ... even though they had been partying, and we`ve got it on video...

REIFF: Well, we don`t have them partying...

GRACE: ... until 4:30 AM...

REIFF: ... as much as you think. We don`t have them partying...

GRACE: Your defense is...

REIFF: ... as much as you think.

GRACE: ... still they were not operating the plane, just because security managed to drag it back off the runway.

REIFF: Listen, I don`t think that`s the best defense in the world, and I`m not suggesting that is the best defense. What I`m saying is that this is something they have raised, and one of the jurors has already said, yes, I agree, the steering was not engaged, therefore, they weren`t operating the aircraft. Remember, you have a flight engineer also here. Was he a co-pilot or was he a flight engineer?

GRACE: Good point. Good point. With me, Bobby Reiff out of Florida. Quick break. As we go to break, to tonight`s "All Points Bulletin." FBI and law enforcement across the country are on the lookout for this man, Walter Edward Myer, wanted in connection with the sex abuse and sodomy of minors, also charged with producing obscene material of minors. Myer, 65, 5-10, 190 pounds, blond hair, blue eyes. If you have info on Myer, contact the FBI, 251-438-3674.

Local news coming up for some of you, but we`ll all be right back. And remember, live coverage of the Jackson trial tomorrow, 3:00 to 5:00 Eastern on Court TV. Please stay with us as we remember Major John C. Spahr, 42, an American hero.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Welcome back, everybody. Down to Miami and WIOD Miami-Dade reporter Al Warnell. Al, will the jury -- or has the jury heard about one of the pilot`s prior DUI, reduced down to reckless driving?

WARNELL: That information will not be released in this trial.

GRACE: Wow! What about that, Debra Opri? Is that is fair to the jury?

OPRI: That`s great. I think the best defense here is going to be overreaction of the evidence presented, that the .08, .09 did not match the extreme testimony of heavy drinking, a high bill tab, smell of alcohol. They were, in effect, able to operate that plane because you know why? They were.

GRACE: Lisa Wayne, should the jury know about the prior DUI of one of the pilots?

WAYNE: I don`t think so, Nancy, and I think the best defense here is that a hangover does not equal being drunk, period.

GRACE: And to Dr. Saunders. On that, even if you`re not legally drunk, what about your reaction time?

SAUNDERS: Reaction time is diminished. Perception and visual functions are seriously impaired even with a blood alcohol level of .04.

GRACE: And very quickly, to DUI defense attorney out of the Florida jurisdiction, Bobby Reiff -- you don`t think this jury deserves to know one of these pilots had a prior DUI?

REIFF: What`s the relevance of a 1986 arrest, which was later released to reckless driving? How does that have anything to do with when this case? Does that show anything, Nancy? I mean, come on!

GRACE: I take it your answer is no.

REIFF: No. Nineteen years ago, what he did, what`s that relevant to this instance?

GRACE: Well, you would think...

REIFF: You would think what?

GRACE: ... he would have learned not to drink. He`s already gotten pulled over once for it, and he got lucky and got it reduced to reckless driving.

REIFF: Well, what says he got lucky? Maybe he was innocent. Maybe he didn`t commit the crime.

GRACE: He took a plea to reckless driving. He was pulled over...

REIFF: Listen, people take pleas...

GRACE: ... for DUI.

REIFF: ... to lesser offenses all the time, Nancy.

GRACE: Note to self. When arrested, hire Bobby Reiff, Lisa Wayne and Debra Opri. I want to thank all of my guests tonight. But as always, my biggest thank you is to you for being with all of us, inviting all of us into your home.

Coming up, headlines from all around the world, and Larry on CNN. I`m Nancy Grace, signing off for tonight. I hope to see you right here tomorrow night, 8:00 o`clock sharp Eastern. And until then, good night, friend.

END

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