A lawyer whose clients have included a child pornography consumer, a crooked Wall Street trader, and a Muslim who plotted to bomb Bronx synagogues and fire missiles at American military planes is President Obama's latest nominee to the federal judiciary.
Mr. Obama announced the nomination of Vincent L. Briccetti to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York yesterday, saying, "I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench...I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice." A White House-issued capsule biography said Mr. Briccetti "specializes in white collar criminal defense."
The Web site of Mr. Briccetti's own law firm is more detailed: "The types of white collar matters he has handled include mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, tax fraud, public corruption, false claims, embezzlement and theft, criminal antitrust, immigration fraud, identity theft and credit card fraud, and money laundering, among others. He has also represented persons investigated for or charged with miscellaneous other criminal offenses, such racketeering, extortion, criminal civil rights violations, weapons possession, internet sex offenses, sexual misconduct, drug trafficking, arson, assault, and robbery."
Among Mr. Briccetti's clients has been James Cromitie, who was convicted last month for planting what he thought were real bombs outside Bronx synagogues. When the verdict was read, Mr. Briccetti "patted his client on the shoulder," a New York Times account from the courtroom said.
Another client was reportedly John Dexter, a Manhattan private school headmaster who eventually pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge. Mr. Briccetti also reportedly represented a New York State Senate official accused of possessing child pornography.
He also reportedly represented a Daiwa Bank bond trader who embezzled $570,000 of the bank's money after losing $1.1 billion.
Faulting lawyers for their clients is a tricky business — in America, everyone has a right to a defense lawyer, and even John Adams famously represented the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre. Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge who was attorney general in the Bush administration, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal under the headline "Why You Shouldn't Judge A Lawyer By His Clients."
Asked how he would respond to queries about these clients as part of his confirmation, and about whether the issue had come up pre-nomination, Mr. Briccetti told FutureOfCapitalism.com in a brief telephone conversation that he declined to answer, though he did not dismiss as unreasonable the question about whether his clients were a surprising list for a federal judicial nominee.
"You're right, I have represented those people," Mr. Briccetti said in the brief phone conversation. "I am who I am."
At least one American Jewish leader said he found Mr. Briccetti's representation of the synagogue bomber to be "troubling." Said the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, "He has a choice of whether he want to accept these cases."
There's not a word of any of this in today's New York Times or Wall Street Journal, notwithstanding the highly touted "newspaper war" in New York City.
If recent history is any guide, the Obama administration won't fight to defend Mr. Briccetti if his nomination runs into any trouble. A previous recommendation by Senator Schumer for the Southern District, Daniel Alter, who had been a top lawyer at the Anti-Defamation League, was abandoned by the Obama administration on the basis of what Mr. Alter says are false quotes attributed to him about "merry Christmas" as a holiday greeting and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mr. Schumer recommended Mr. Briccetti for the bench in a Senate press release noting that the lawyer worked as a federal prosecutor in the 1980s. Said Mr. Schumer, "Vincent Briccetti has had a varied and distinguished career in the law and public service on behalf of the people of New York and the nation. He is universally respected by his peers in the legal community due to his sharp mind and exemplary professionalism. His outstanding leadership, his intellect, his commitment to justice, his deep connections to New York, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for as a federal judge in the Southern District."