“I need a trial every 4 to 5 months,” says courtroom addict Reid Weingarten, which is good news for high-profile criminal defendants lining up at his door. The white collar guru came to private practice after an “unbelievable run” of ten years at DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, prosecuting corruption cases against the likes of Congressman John Jenrette (for ABSCAM) and federal judges Walter Nixon and Alcee Hastings (on bribery charges). In 20 years at Steptoe, he’s defended a litany of notables including former Teamsters president Ron Carey and ex WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers. Reid is now “in the fortunate position of being able to turn away more work than I take.” Bisnow tracked down the wanted man for a chat.
Reid owns an island home in Nova Scotia with significant other Cheryl Gould, an SVP at NBC News. It’s where he gets his best trial prep work done, along with some sea kayaking and seal-watching. Beats a conference room.
Despite being tapped in 1988 as Associate Independent Counsel in the Iran Contra affair (and later serving as a Senate investigator into “October Surprise” allegations that President Reagan delayed release of American hostages in Iran), Reid says that his career “went to another level” with his representation of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. At his beauty contest interview with the Clinton official, the two clicked: “I knew within five seconds that we would be working together.” That assignment lead to Reid’s successful defense of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy against charges of improperly receiving sports tickets and other gifts. He was off and running.
Free of the micro-management gene, Reid calls on trusted partners Brian Heberlig, Erik Kitchen, Bill Hassler, Even Barr, and “superstar in his own right” Mark Hulkower to run his cases’ day-to-day. Reid says that Steptoe’s criminal practice, one of the largest in town, is unique in having three characteristics: “We generally represent individuals, we often go to trial, and we win most of them.”
Once a year, Reid mixes up his practice with something different. The jersey in the lower left comes from a Naval Academy quarterback charged with rape. After getting leave to appear at the court martial, Reid won the case with assistance from his son Ross, who was doing a summer internship at Steptoe. The sharper tribute above comes from two D.C. homicide detectives accused of coaxing false witness testimony in order to close the case on a red ball murder at Club U. After their August acquittal in federal court, Reid received a replica of the disputed murder weapon.
Reid splits his time between Steptoe offices in DC and New York (where Ross, Cheryl, and Cheryl’s son Jake all live), and has no plans on leaving the firm. “You couldn’t get me out of here with a mortar,” he says. The next trial on his slate is that of Elizabeth Monrad, ex-CFO of Berkshire Hathaway sub Gen Re. She’s accused of abetting AIG in a scheme to pad the insurer’s balance sheet with $250 million in fake loss reserves.
The path to legal stardom began with beer. Broke and “sick of bartending” during law school at Dickinson, Reid took the best-paying clerkship he could find: with the Dauphin County, Pennsylvania D.A.’s office. Two years later Reid told his boss, respected prosecutor Roy Zimmerman: “I love ya, but I’m outta here.”
The criminal defense attorney who entered law school with notions of “making the world safe”—fueled by politics that were “far to the left of Karl Marx“ and a stint studying public international law at the Hague—hasn’t lost touch with his charitable spirit. In 1995, Reid and Covington partner Eric Holder co-founded the See Forever Foundation for at-risk juveniles. The foundation created the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which has grown to three campuses in D.C.
No longer the Chairman, Reid says “my big role now is writing checks.”