(Bloomberg) -- Jose Baez is better known for helping clear accused killers than defending white-collar cases. Should the Miami-based lawyer win an acquittal for a former Cantor Fitzgerald LP mortgage-bond trader accused of fraud, he might find Wall Street calling more often.
He’s best known for his successful defense of Casey Anthony, a Florida woman who was acquitted in 2011 of killing her two-year-old daughter, with TV host Geraldo Rivera dubbing him "Juanie Cochran" after O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran. His reputation was further burnished by a not-guilty murder verdict for former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, just days before he killed himself while serving time for another homicide.
This time, Baez, 48, is representing David Demos, who is charged with lying to customers about bond prices to boost his compensation. He made his closing arguments Tuesday with his usual theatrical flair in the most recent trial stemming from a crackdown on bond trading practices that began with the 2013 arrest of former Jefferies & Co. managing director Jesse Litvak.
Baez urged jurors during a nearly two-hour presentation to acquit Demos, describing him as a “guinea pig” for an “experimental prosecution.”
The lawyer provoked laughter from the gallery on multiple occasions as he joked about merengue moves, compared the government’s case to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich -- without the jelly -- and mocked prosecutors for “cherry-picking” evidence, in a riff on Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Cherry’s last name.
It’s the sort of theatrics that Baez brought to the Anthony and Hernandez cases and which he’s displayed throughout Demos’s weeklong trial in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut. His opening argument, emotionally attacking the prosecution, brought audible sobs from members of the Demos family seated in the front row of the gallery.
"When the government comes calling, it’s a scary thing," Baez said. "This is real to David Demos, not a hypothetical. This is real to each and every member of his family who’s here today. These are lives that will be destroyed."
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Baez has displayed a courtroom manner that’s unusual in mostly staid white-collar cases. He often sparred with witnesses, routinely wandered far from the lectern, and at one point stood so close to a witness that the judge told him to back off.
The approach could work, said Peter J. Henning, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Baez may be able to find a theme that resonates with jurors rather than delving into the details of complex bond transactions, Henning said.
"The focus here is going to be on undermining the government’s case, picking at any loose thread," Henning said. "And that’s how you defend a homicide prosecution. You wait to see where there might be a weakness in the case."
Baez is joined at the trial by two lawyers who worked with him on the Hernandez case: New York attorney Alex Spiro, who helped win an acquittal last year for a former Nomura Holdings Inc. trader charged with lying to his clients, and civil-rights lawyer Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor who represented the family of Michael Brown, the black teenager whose 2014 killing by a white police officer in Missouri sparked nationwide protests.
Baez, whose law firm’s website prominently features an 800 number, and his colleagues declined to be interviewed during trial. He said in an email his work goes well beyond celebrity cases.
"My firm handles all types of criminal matters all across the country, including white-collar and complex criminal matters, as well as civil-rights cases," he wrote before the trial. "I took this case because David Demos is an innocent man whose life has been destroyed by one of the worst cases of governmental overreaching that I have seen in years."
The case is U.S. v. Demos, 16-cr-00220, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (New Haven).
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