WASHINGTON – When the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump opens this week, two defense lawyers will be placed in the national spotlight: David I. Schoen, a lawyer specializing in civil rights and the Alabama-based criminal defense; and Bruce L. Castor Jr., former district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.
Neither has worked with the other before, and it‘s still unclear who has primacy as the team’s lead advocate. Their uncertain relationship began when Mr. Trump abruptly hired them as his first defense team collapsed; they are now trying to organize themselves without knowing what to expect.
“We don’t know what the agenda is,” Schoen said in an interview late last week, noting that Senate leaders have yet to announce the rules for the trial. “We don’t know what the order of things will be. We don’t know how much time will be given. “
He has done extensive work on public interest and civil rights cases in the South on issues such as police and prison violence and access to the ballot box. Among his many cases, he was instrumental in a class action lawsuit that challenged Alabama’s foster care system and led to improvements, and he represented the Ku Klux Klan by successfully challenging a law that challenged them. forbade walking with balaclavas and without paying. expenses. The American Bar Association honored Mr. Schoen in 1995 for his volunteer legal efforts.
He has also worked as a criminal defense attorney, representing a range of sometimes notorious clients, including accused gangsters, rapists and killers. A staunch supporter of Israel, he has also sued Palestinian terrorists and brought a lawsuit against Simon & Schuster for alleged false statements in former President Jimmy Carter’s 2006 book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”.
Richard Cohen, former chairman of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that while he thought Mr. Trump deserved to be sentenced, he viewed Mr. Schoen as “a good lawyer and a good person” who is drawn to complex and difficult business and is not afraid of taking sometimes unpopular clients.
A Jewish observer, Mr. Schoen has called for Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial to be suspended if it continues after sunset on Friday, to allow him to keep the Sabbath until its end on Saturday night. New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer said he would “allow” the request, which could extend what both sides had hoped was a swift process.
Mr. Castor, 59, who did not respond to an interview request, brings a different set of experiences. After graduating from the University of Washington and Lee in law, he served two terms as elected district attorney in Montgomery County and one term later as solicitor general of Pennsylvania. He has since worked as a criminal defense attorney.
He is best known for his unapologetic defense of his 2005 decision not to prosecute Bill Cosby after Temple University employee Andrea Constand accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her.
Mr Castor lost his re-election to an opponent who had criticized his handling of the case and went on to accuse Mr Cosby of aggravated indecent assault. In an attempt to have this charge dismissed, Mr. Cosby’s defense team called Mr. Castor as a witness at a hearing in 2016. He argued that his decision not to prosecute was appropriate.
“I came to the conclusion that there was no way the case would get better and better with the time Mr. Cosby’s confession was absent,” Castor told the closed off. “Andrea Constand’s actions during this year have ruined her credibility as a viable witness.
But the judge allowed the case to move forward and Mr Cosby was convicted in 2018. Ms Constand then sued Mr Castor for libel, and the two settled outside of court in 2019. Furthermore, Mr. Castor sued Ms. Constand, claiming that she had brought a libel action to influence an election in which he had not returned to his post as district attorney; a judge dismissed this case.
Mr. Castor was recommended to Mr. Trump and his advisers by his cousin, Stephen R. Castor, a Republican House staff attorney who helped lead the president’s early defense against his first indictment in 2019. Stephen Castor has clashed with Democrats over Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to announce a corruption probe into his political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr..
The forces that drew Mr. Schoen to Mr. Trump’s world date back to the 1990s, when he represented two convicts of organized crime. Arguing that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that would have helped the defense, Mr. Schoen tried to overturn their convictions, but failed.
Andrew Weissmann was one of those prosecutors. When the special advocate leading the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, hired Mr. Weissmann as his deputy, he became a favorite target of Trump allies seeking to discredit the investigation more large. Mr Schoen criticized Mr Weissmann on Fox News and other conservative media.
The relationship grew stronger after Mr. Mueller’s office won the conviction of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend and adviser, for crimes such as lying to Congress and tampering with witnesses. Mr. Schoen was processing Mr. Stone’s appeal before Mr. Trump granted him leniency. Mr Schoen said he believed he was recommended to the president for the impeachment trial because of that link.
Mr Castor and Mr Schoen must now defend the former president against a charge of “incitement to insurgency” linked to the riot on Capitol Hill by his supporters on January 6. The case centers on Mr. Trump’s months-long campaign to win over his supporters. believe the lie that he was re-elected but denied victory due to fraud, and his exhortations to his supporters at a rally in Washington shortly before the riot to go to Capitol Hill and ” fight like hell ”as Congress tried to officially certify Mr. Biden’s victory.
Both Mr. Castor and Mr. Schoen have made headlines in other cases in which they opposed expressions of belief not necessarily supported by fact.
In 2002, while Mr. Castor was a prosecutor, he fought for the release from prison of a man who had been exonerated of a rape conviction by a DNA test. The prisoner, Bruce Godschalk, confessed to detectives but recanted long before his trial, but Mr Castor had objected to his DNA being tested.
When scientific evidence refuted prosecutors’ thesis against Mr Godschalk, Mr Castor questioned the validity of the test results while admitting that he had “no scientific basis” for doing so. Even after further tests confirmed the findings and he was forced to let Mr. Godschalk go, Mr. Castor continued to express doubts about the man’s innocence.
Mr Schoen has made headlines more recently for expressing a belief that collides with an official investigative finding: a forensic pathologist’s decision that Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier and charged with a sex crime, is died by suicide in prison in 2019.
Nine days before Mr Epstein’s death, Mr Schoen had met him for hours to discuss the management of his case. Based on Mr Epstein’s demeanor and enthusiasm for new legal strategies, and citing the nature of his injuries, Mr Schoen said he did not believe he committed suicide.
“I don’t think it’s suicide,” Mr. Schoen repeated in the interview, adding, “I don’t know what happened. I don’t have a conspiracy theory.
It has been reported that Mr Trump and his original legal team, led by Butch Bowers, have parted ways over a clash over whether his defense should focus on his bogus claim that the election had been stolen.
But Mr Schoen said he started working with Mr Bowers days before most of the team left and the explanation of what happened was not accurate. He said there had been a communication problem, but declined to provide further details except to insist that “the president didn’t push an agenda on this thing.
Mr Castor also denied that Mr Trump pushed them to focus on the legitimacy of the election results, telling a Philadelphia radio station that they would instead focus on “technical” legal arguments.
Together, Mr. Castor and Mr. Schoen are expected to argue that the Senate does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to try former public servants (although it has done so before), and that the language Mr. Trump’s arsonist before the riot was nowhere near what could result in a criminal incitement conviction due to the First Amendment.
“It’s a terrible chill on passionate political speech, even bringing this action,” Mr. Schoen said.