Island bookshelf: Crooks and characters were his clients

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Jay Goldberg, one of America’s preeminent trial attorneys, has represented Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Willie Nelson, Miles Davis, Donald Trump, Johnny Cash, Armand Hammer, The Hells Angels and many others over the course of his long and illustrious career. The Shelter Island Public Library welcomed Mr. Goldberg to Friday Night Dialogues on Nov. 8.

A brisk snap in the air didn’t deter an enthusiastic group of Islanders from attending last Friday Night’s Dialogue at the Shelter Island Library. The guest speaker was Jay Goldberg, widely recognized as a top litigator. His new book, “The Courtroom Is My Theater,” formed the basis for an hour of recollections about the famous and infamous whom he’d represented in court.

Mr. Goldberg’s prominence owes in part to his representation of Donald Trump during his two divorces. One of the first questions he put to rest was whether he’d had his legal bills paid by Trump. After describing how he’d learned to deal with some of his unsavory, mob-related clients from a position of strength, he said he’d told Trump, “I’m not one of your workmen that you stiff. You’ll pay your bill when it’s given to you — or when I say that I’ve earned it.” Mr. Trump did pay his bills, and earned some lasting loyalty from the attorney. 

An erudite, elegant gentleman, he chooses his words carefully. Of Trump, he says, “There’s nobody there with the strength to monitor his behavior patterns when they’re not consistent with what you’d expect of a president.”

He pulls no punches when it comes to Trump’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani: “He’s brilliant, but heartless, cold and scheming.” He considers the president a “victim,” he said, and Giuliani a “malefactor.” He hews closely to the president’s version of events that are now the subject of an impeachment inquiry, accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of corruption despite evidence to the contrary. Numerous independent media outlets have reported that Biden’s efforts to get Ukraine to dismiss Viktor Shokin, a corrupt prosecutor, were in line with the International Monetary Fund and an alliance of Western governments whose envoys pushed for his ouster well before Biden did, in an effort to guide Ukraine into a more transparent, democratic government. Shokin surfaced again later as the one whispering conspiracy theories into Giuliani’s ear and seeking his help to get a visa to come to the U.S. That effort was successfully blocked by Ambassador Marie Yovonovitch, earning herself a recall to Washington amid threats and a smear campaign engineered by Giuliani and his “amigos,” who are now facing scrutiny for their shadow foreign policy maneuvering.

The other boldface names Mr. Goldberg mentions come with many more firsthand stories. He bitterly criticized the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, for whom he once worked at the Justice Department, for being too cozy with criminals. Yet, he pointed out that Kennedy, just weeks before his assassination in 1968, deflected praise from himself to Mr. Goldberg for a heroic effort cleaning up corruption in Gary, Ind.

Mr. Goldberg speaks in the warmest tones of his wife of nearly 60 years, Rema, a psychologist. Her ability to read people was key to choosing a certain jury member in a trial that made tabloid headlines decades ago, involving former Miss America Bess Myerson and a prominent judge, Hortense Gabel. In what Mr. Goldberg called an “abuse of power,” Ms. Gabel’s troubled daughter was “wooed” by an IRS agent and turned on her mother, stealing documents and wearing a wire to get incriminating evidence. The prosecutor who set this in motion? Wait for it … Rudy Giuliani.

All the storied events in Mr. Goldberg’s long career could not fit into one evening’s dialogue. For his experiences with Miles Davis, Mick Jagger, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Willie Nelson and many more, you’ll have to read the book.

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