Advice Between Friends

Murray Richmond is the last of the old-time gunslingers.  Back in the days when criminal defense lawyers were divided up as “trial guys” and “law guys,” Murray was the epitome of the trial guy.  I’ve known him for more than a generation, and learned things from Murray that could not have been learned from anyone else.  It’s not that he’s the perfect lawyer; no one is.  But there are some things Murray does better than anyone else.

Over a half century of lawyering in the Bronx, you make a lot of friends (and enemies), and one of the friends he made was Efrain González, a former state senator who found himself on the wrong end of a federal indictment.  Without a pot to piss in, González turned to his dear friend Murray.  That’s where things turned ugly, according to the New York Times.

“Are you pleading guilty to each of these crimes because you are guilty?” the judge asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Mr. González replied.

Asked whether he was satisfied with his lawyer, Mr. González said he was.

But Mr. González later decided that he was neither guilty nor happy with the work of his lawyer, Murray Richman, his close friend for more than 40 years.

After obtaining new counsel, González moved to vacate his guilty plea.  He wanted to go to trial.

Mr. González, 61, who is free on bond, declined to comment through his new lawyer. But he said in an affidavit in support of withdrawing the plea that although he “never wavered” in his desire to prove his innocence, “it was obvious to me that Mr. Richman seemed wholly uninterested in trial preparation, wanted me to plead guilty and was pressuring me to produce this outcome.”

To appreciate the significance, both of the claim and the conflict, you would need to know that there is probably no lawyer in New York City more willing, no, thrilled, to go to trial than Murray.  Murray loves a trial.  Sure, he appreciates a good disposition as much as the next guy, but Murray would never shy away from trial.  It’s his sustenance after 50 years in the well.  Murray can quote every half applicable bible verse on summation from memory, and there isn’t a trick on cross he hasn’t pulled.  Murray loves trial.

But that’s Murray, the gunslinger.  This was Murray, the friend.  Murray defended González gratis, and Murray is more of a capitalist than me.

He agrees that not charging his clients can be especially problematic. He even has a display in his office with one of his favorite sayings, “Three things work for nothing: a mule, a tool and a fool.” But he has been known to violate that maxim where friends are involved.

For Murray to handle a case without fee, especially that of a former senator (meaning that González had nothing to offer, his day in power over), it must have been friendship.  Murray has relished the nickname “Don’t Worry Murray,” along with his collection of screaming loud ties, over the years.  But when it comes to friends, lawyers worry. 

Mr. Richman explained to the judge that their disagreement centered on how they viewed the evidence. Mr. González felt it proved his innocence, Mr. Richman said, adding, “I am of the opinion that, frankly speaking, that it does not.”
In other circumstances, the lawyer would likely take a long, hard look at his client and tell him, it’s your life.  I will fight my heart out for you, but I think you’re going to lose.  I think you’re dead wrong.  The call is yours.  This comes from honesty combined with the detached perspective of the case that a lawyer brings, and is supposed to bring, to the case.  Friends aren’t detached.  Friends want friends to do what’s best for them.  No longer is the lawyer detached, but a participant in the decision making process, even if it means overcoming the defendant’s decision making authority when it comes to the rest of his life.

Almost any criminal defense lawyer would be there for a friend.  Most won’t charge a friend, money almost always being a complicating factor, even when they happily offer to pay.  We just want to help. 

There’s a lesson here, naturally.  Some might attribute what happened here to money, to González’s fear that Murray’s advice was tainted by the lack of a payment to take the case to trial, to spend the time necessary to prepare and lose that time to paying customers.  It doesn’t seem likely to me, Murray having made a ton of money in his career and being at an age where the marginal dollar doesn’t mean very much in his life.

It strikes me that the conflict arose from familiarity and the lack of detachment.  From González’s perspective, Murray was a friend who happened to be a gunslinging criminal defense lawyer, and his familiarity with his buddy Murray caused him to discount Murray’s advice.  From Murray’s perspective, he wanted what he believed to be the best outcome for his buddy González, and pushed it beyond the limits that would ordinarily constrain a detached lawyer. 

It’s a problem to represent a friend.  And yet, how could you say no to a friend in need?

H/T Andrew Bluestone

2 comments on “Advice Between Friends

  1. Thorne

    RE” “It doesn’t seem likely to me, Murray having made a ton of money in his career and being at an age where the marginal dollar doesn’t mean very much in his life.”

    Do you not know just how incredibly stingy some rich folks are?

  2. SHG

    True, but then if money was a factor, I’ve no doubt that Murray could have talked his way out of the representation.  He’s smooth.

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