Robert Bennett, an attorney famous for representing Bill Clinton during the Lewinski scandal, spoke to Georgetown students last night about his experiences as a lawyer in the District. Bennett, a Georgetown Law professor, reflected on his experiences representing Clinton, Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation, and Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, during the Iran-Contra Scandal.
“I’m a great believer in that everyone is entitled to defense,” he said, responding to a question on whether he had to set aside personal beliefs to represent certain clients.
He said that although he didn’t approve of Clinton’s actions, he felt he deserved a good defense to “put the government to its proof” because, according to the law, people are innocent until proven guilty. He also added that no lawyer in the world would decline representing the President of the United States. He offered to represent the President free of charge, pro bono, but was told that the government could not accept free legal services. He added in jest that he was happy that law existed.
Bennett has represented other clients pro bono because he believes that good representation from a public defender is unlikely.
His most memorable case was pro bono, in which he represented a Boston police officer. The officer, who was white, was chasing a murder suspect with several other officers. The others beat a black man, whom they did not recognize as an undercover cop, and the officer was convicted of perjury because he did not see what happened and the court believed he was lying.
Bennett got the charges dismissed, and the officer was able to return to the police department after ten years, during which time his wife had several miscarriages believed to be due to stress. Bennett mentioned that he receives a Christmas card from the family with pictures of their children every year.
“It’s a great feeling to be a warrior on behalf of somebody fighting the overpowering machinery of the government,” he said of defending clients. He said that this sentiment and the reminder he gets every Christmas of the family he helped are the reasons why he’s glad he became a lawyer.
At first, Bennett was a pre-med student at Georgetown, but soon changed his mind and moved to the liberal arts. He went to Georgetown Law after graduating, and later went to Harvard Law to receive his Master of Laws degree.
He said that he got to his prominent position by first clerking for a judge, a standard way for lawyers to begin their careers, then working at the States Attorney’s office. After that, he became a federal prosecutor in D.C. He later went into private practice and “these cases just came along” as his reputation built and clients recommended him to people like the Clintons and other politicians.
“The law’s been a magic carpet ride for me,” he said about the opportunities his job has provided him.
Although he prizes his job experiences, he said that nothing has been more important to him than his family, and recommended that students put their families and future families first. He said that by doing so, people will be happy and content with their lives, which is most important. When he travels for work, his daughters can and do call him at any time. He joked that they do so because they “think I’m a functional idiot.”
“I’m about as successful, at least in my own mind, as I can be,” he said, half in jest. “And I never sacrificed my relationship with my family.”
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