(Bloomberg) -- The first look at documents seized from Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, will go to Barbara Jones, who cut her teeth as a mob prosecutor, presided as a judge over white-collar crime cases including corporate chieftain Bernie Ebbers, and oversaw the arbitration of NFL running back Ray Rice.
Jones, 70, was appointed at a hearing Thursday to sift through material seized on April 9 by the FBI from Cohen’s office, home, hotel room and electronic devices.
Jones, who retired from the federal bench a half-decade ago, will decide what records may contain communications protected by attorney-client privilege, making them off-limits to prosecutors. Her determinations may help shape the direction of a criminal investigation that prosecutors have said is focused on Cohen’s personal business and financial dealings.
Jones sent mobsters to prison as a federal prosecutor in New York, and became the first woman to lead a federal organized crime task force. She was the judge who sentenced WorldCom’s Ebbers to 25 years in prison for orchestrating an $11 billion accounting fraud. In 2016, after retiring from the bench, she joined Bracewell LLP after an exodus of lawyers including Rudy Giuliani.
In court, a lawyer for Cohen praised the appointment by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood, calling it a “wonderful choice.”
Wood chose Jones, a former colleague, after prosecutors said they would agree to the use of a so-called special master. Jones was not among the seven names that federal prosecutors and defense lawyers for Cohen proposed for the post.
Another retired judge in New York, Shira Scheindlin, praised the appointment. Jones had a “very deep background in criminal law” when she became a judge after serving beside longtime Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and as a mob prosecutor, Scheindlin said.
“I think Judge Wood wanted somebody with deep experience in criminal law and attorney-client privilege,” Scheindlin said. “She knows her well. They were colleagues. It makes sense.”
Jones was assigned in 1973 to an Organized Crime Strike Force in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. She worked as chief assistant to Morgenthau and worked with Louis Freeh, who would later become director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Her career got a boost in 1984 from Giuliani, the U.S. Attorney who made her chief of the organized crime task force, according to “Gangbusters,” by Michael Stone.
Jones was appointed to the federal bench in the Southern District of New York by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and served until the end of 2012. She joined the law firm Bracewell LLP in 2016.
Jones was an arbitrator in a case involving Rice, a running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, who was banned for two games following an altercation with his then-fiancee in which he knocked her unconscious. Jones in November 2014 overturned Rice’s indefinite suspension, making him available to sign with any team and play immediately. She served as an independent review officer for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, acting as a monitor over the union.
She also issued a historic same-sex marriage ruling. In June 2012, Jones ruled in favor of Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government over a $363,000 federal tax bill she received after the 2009 death of her spouse, Thea Spyer. Jones concluded that the Section 3 portion of the Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal protection clause because there was no rational basis to support it.
The idea of appointing a special master to review the Cohen records received a boost earlier Thursday. In a five-page letter to the judge, prosecutors used the president’s own words from that morning to argue that the special master’s document review could move swiftly. Trump said on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends” that Cohen was responsible for only “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work.
That interview -- and Cohen’s earlier acknowledgment that he had just three legal clients this year -- may have undermined the lawyer’s claim that the seized records may contain “thousands, if not millions” of privileged communications from clients, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
“Cohen is trying to portray himself to the judge in his criminal case as he’s doing a lot of legal work, he’s a lawyer, he’s got multiple clients,” said Mariotti, who isn’t involved in the case. “Trump is trying to make it sound like he didn’t handle a lot of my legal work, which is what the government is saying.”
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