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Prince George's Mickey Mouse Lawyer

Colleagues, Judges Consider Alan Goldstein A Legal Genius

By Keith Harriston
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 1986 ; Page C01

The lawyer in Upper Marlboro, described by judges as a "legal genius" and counted on by many of his peers to guide them through legal quagmires, isn't easy to spot as he walks through the halls of the Prince George's County Courthouse.

But a closer look reveals a distinguishing mark that sets him apart from the hundreds of lawyers who trek daily to the county seat.

Set neatly on the lower right corner of his shirt pocket is a Mickey Mouse monogram -- the same comic strip figure that on any day adorns Alan J. Goldstein's belt buckle or cuff links, wristwatch or tie pin or wallet.

"I'm just a Mickey Mouse lawyer," said Goldstein, who keeps a foot-high Mickey Mouse telephone on the corner of his office desk, just beyond his reach. "Mickey Mouse is the all-American hero. He's always on the side of good."

Goldstein, who has recently been in the news as the defense attorney for two University of Maryland basketball players indicted after the investigation of the cocaine-induced death of their teammate Len Bias, enjoys likening himself to a rodent, albeit a lovable one.

It is part of a self-deprecating strategy that works only on those who don't know Goldstein or his penchant for joking about his height ("too short"), his weight ("too heavy"), and his hair ("too little").

But in a courtroom battle, rival lawyers say, his witty style can be deceptive. "He is probably a legal genius," said District Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. "If anyone is, he is."

That reputation often lands Goldstein in the middle of high-profile cases. He was cocounsel in 1984 for the Progress Club Inc. when prosecutors charged unsuccessfully that the all-male social club in Montgomery County was running an illegal gambling operation.

This year, he took on the case of Erica Mendell Daye, a 25-year-old Adelphi woman who is awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge in the decapitation of her 5-year-old son.

Last summer, when University of Maryland basketball players Terry Long and David Gregg sought advice shortly after Bias' death, the campus legal aid center sent the two men to Goldstein. They are scheduled for trial next month.

The county's top prosecutor, State's Attorney Arthur A. (Bud) Marshall Jr., looked to Goldstein when he needed a lawyer to settle a salary dispute with the state. "Alan is a brilliant lawyer," Marshall said. "Of course, the only case he handled for me, he lost."

Goldstein, a 43-year-old frustrated athlete-rock star, credits a fictional lawyer for arousing his interest in the law.

"I wanted to be an NBA {National Basketball Association} ballplayer," said the 5-foot-5-inch Goldstein said, "but I discovered very quickly that fate was not going to be kind to me. My second choice was to be a rock star, but my parents had me take accordion lessons. When was the last time you saw a rock star playing accordion?"

Then there was Perry Mason, the fictional counselor who, at least on television, never lost a case. "That's how I got on law," Goldstein said. "Perry Mason. I thought he was cool."

Although Perry Mason never defended a person charged with driving while intoxicated, that is where Goldstein is his toughest, according to prosecutors, judges and lawyers. "He makes the {assistant} state's attorneys jump through hoops on DWI cases," said E. Alan Shepherd, the public defender for Prince George's.

Many lawyers have their clients plead guilty in drunk driving cases, judges and prosecutors said. Their efforts are focused on keeping their clients away from the publicity of a trial, what Circuit Judge Vincent J. Femia calls the "low exposure for my client" theory. "Alan's philosophy is, 'We'll fight them all the way,' " Femia said.

Goldstein not only goes to trial but he also keeps a tally of his won-lost record inside a pocket notebook. His record in 1985 was 42 victories and 13 losses. He included in the losses nine cases in which his clients were given probation before judgment. So far this year, the record is 34 and 11, including five cases in which the client received probation before judgment.

"I'm not keeping count," Goldstein said. "It's not an ego thing. I want to make sure that I am not doing my clients a disservice by going to trial."

Clients pay Goldstein well for his services. Judges and other lawyers said Goldstein's fee for a drunk driving case is about $2,000, four times the amount charged by many attorneys who arrange plea bargains. But Goldstein, who acknowledges that he is one of the highest priced lawyers in the county, said he doesn't charge that much. "Let's say that I'm expensive," he said.

Goldstein's trial record may compare with that of his boyhood idol, but his personality does not. The Silver Spring native is prone to theatrics, courtroom jokes and off-the-wall strategies that would surprise even Perry Mason.

Circuit Court Judge Howard S. Chasanow remembers one occasion when Goldstein, defending a man accused of embezzlement, decided to waive his right to give a closing argument to the jury, an act virtually unheard of in criminal trials. "I told him that if he was trying to become a legend in his own time to do it in someone else's courtroom," Chasanow said. "But he stuck with it."

The jury came back with verdict of not guilty. "I suppose it was a mixture of nerve and absolute self-confidence," Chasanow said.

Lawyer Bruce Marcus said that Goldstein once asked the presiding judge if he could pose one more question to a witness, the manager of a men's clothing store who had been robbed.

"Do you have anything in a {size} 42 short?" Goldstein asked the befuddled witness.

"Yes, I do," the witness answered.

"Well, I have no further questions," Goldstein said.

Goldstein can get away with such shenanigans, other lawyers said, because of his reputation. "Judges listen to people like Alan Goldstein because they respect his legal mind," said Michael Whalen, the deputy state's attorney. "When you're dealing with him, you have to be on your toes, whether you're the opposing attorney or the judge."

Goldstein said there's a twofold reason for his joking. "I have a theory that the more you make the other guy laugh," he said, "the harder it is for him to kill you. And I've found that a little well-placed humor can go a long way toward making all of this more bearable."

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.