Legal Eagle, Bar None
By: Elizabethe Holland
(reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), July 13, 2003)
* Many have dubbed Scott Rosenblum the area’s top criminal defense attorney. "He puts everything he has into every case," says St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk, one of his clients.
It’s judgment day, attorney Scott Rosenblum’s last chance to make 12 strangers believe his client didn’t gun down a man to prove her love to another — despite her videotaped confession to the contrary. Still, Rosenblum couldn’t appear any more at ease.
Well-tanned, he strolls into the courtroom wearing polished black loafers and a custom-tailored black suit. A white handkerchief fashioned into four peaks protrudes from his breast pocket, and a tightly knotted tie in shades of silver contrasts with his crisp, white shirt.
What is most obvious, though — as he scans the courtroom with steady, heavy-lidded eyes, chats with the court reporter and greets his client just before the start of closing arguments — is his steely, seemingly impenetrable confidence.
On this day, he feels especially assured. The day before, during a cross-examination of a detective, Rosenblum scored the sort of coup criminal defense attorneys dream of.
"If you lie under oath as an officer, you know what that is?" he asked the witness, former Jefferson County sheriff’s detective Jeff Munzlinger. "That’s perjury, right?"
"Yes," replied Munzlinger, shortly after denying he made any promises to Rosenblum’s client during the interview that ended with her confession.
Moments later, after intense questioning by Rosenblum, Munzlinger gave a different story. He acknowledged telling the defendant, Sara Norton, she could get less time and that he would try to finagle a visit, or more, with her newborn if she made "the correct statement."
"What did you just call that minutes ago?" Rosenblum asked.
"I," Munzlinger responded, "guess I just …"
"Committed perjury," the attorney hammered.
"Yeah," Munzlinger said, "I guess I just perjured myself to this whole jury."
It was a moment Rosenblum wouldn’t let the officer or the prosecution live down. It was a moment he revisited and rehashed again and again in his closing argument. It was a moment that presumably helped convince the jury to declare Norton not guilty.
And it was a moment that resulted in another successful outcome for a man many have dubbed the area’s top criminal defense attorney.
"At this point, he’s the new Charlie Shaw," said St. Louis County Circuit Judge Steven H. Goldman, referring to the legendary lawyer who died two years ago at age 79. "He’s the pre-eminent criminal defense attorney in St. Louis. I don’t think there’s any question about it."
St. Charles County prosecutor Jim Gregory, who has faced Rosenblum a number of times in court, said Rosenblum is one of two attorneys whose services he would seek if he ever landed in trouble.
"He’s 100 percent," Gregory said.
St. Louis Rams star running back Marshall Faulk, one of Rosenblum’s clients and an occasional Rosenblum trial spectator, said, "He puts everything he has into every case. People trust in him, basically. You’re putting your life in his hands.
Rosenblum, 45, has defended Rams players and a coach, the son of a former football Cardinals great and a Missouri Tigers wide receiver. He has taken on headline grabbers – the cases of a dentist accused of killing his wife, an investment broker accused of embezzling $4 million from more than 50 investors, a swindler of symphony musicians, and a county councilman who purloined water from a fire hydrant to fill his swimming pool.
And he’s taken on scads of cases he’s pleased to note never received any news coverage.
Despite his fees – for a murder case he charges from $25,000 to $150,000 – he is also arguably the busiest private-practice criminal defense attorney around. And happily so.
"I really love what I do," said Rosenblum, who can’t seem to get through a conversation without several interruptions from his cell phone. "I’m obsessed with what I do."
Two busy months
Rosenblum has had about 200 jury trials, but he refuses to break down the wins and losses. Regardless, the success he’s enjoyed in the past two trial-packed months alone is noteworthy:
* On May 12, a jury rejected all six counts of a domestic battery lawsuit against Faulk. Rosenblum was one of the athlete’s attorneys and successful in his pursuit of a counterclaim that Helen Dunne, the mother of three of Faulk’s children, had abused the legal process.
* On May 20, Rosenblum began his defense of the Rev. Bryan Kuchar in a sexual abuse case that ended in a mistrial. The jury couldn’t agree on six charges of statutory sodomy alleging that Kuchar, as associate pastor at Assumption Catholic Church in south St. Louis County in 1995, had molested a 14-year-old boy.
* On June 3, Norton’s trial began. The Cedar Hill woman was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 1997 slaying of Dennis Corum. Police alleged that Norton killed the man to show her boyfriend that she and Corum were not romantically involved. A verdict in favor of Norton came down June 5.
* On June 19, Rosenblum defended Andrew Reynolds of St. Louis in a retrial on charges of voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. Reynolds was accused in the fatal stabbing of James Lindemann of Crawford County. On June 20, he was found not guilty.
* On July 3, another mistrial was declared. This time, jurors couldn’t come to a consensus on whether Rosenblum’s client, Laura Amrhein of Hamilton, Mo., was guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Amrhein was accused of trying to arrange for Camille Reeder, who at the time lived with Amrhein’s husband, to be killed.
* On Monday, he began his defense of Rasheen Johnson of St. Louis on a federal charge of being a felon in illegal possession of a gun. Once again, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict, and on Thursday, a mistrial was declared.
The calendar for Rosenblum, partners Joel Schwartz, John Rogers and Jenna Glass, and four associates shows little time for rest in the months ahead.
The firm is representing Daillyn Pavia of Granite City, a nurse charged with first-degree murder in the death of a critically ill patient in 2001 at St. Louis University Hospital; Kurt Fabregas of Wentzville, charged with assault for allegedly shaking his 14-week-old son and causing permanent neurological damage; Eric Monroe, a Fenton-area man accused of setting a fire that killed his wife and stepdaughter; St. Charles 3rd Ward Alderman Michelle Stiens, charged with leaving the scene of an accident; and Dawan Ferguson, the father of missing 9-year-old Christian Ferguson, although he has not been charged with any crime.
"Follows up every lead"
Rosenblum grew up as one of three children in a family that owned a handbag manufacturing company in the Washington Avenue garment district. It was a business whose ups and downs were dictated by the fickle world of fashion, and a business Rosenblum had no interest in taking up.
In 1979, the Parkway Central grad earned a degree in business administration at the University of Missouri. After a year off, he began law school at California Western.
Upon graduating in 1983, Rosenblum was hired to work in the Clayton law firm of his uncle, Howard Wittner. In 1986, he was made a partner. In 1999, he decided to strike out on his own.
When asked about Rosenblum, judges and fellow lawyers most often note the extent to which he prepares.
"He follows up every lead, every witness," said Vanessa Antoniou, who formerly worked as an associate under Rosenblum. "He may go over a police report 10 times to find a mistake or a lead."
Faulk didn’t hesitate to call Rosenblum, a close friend, for his case – despite the fact Rosenblum hadn’t handled a civil case in 17 years. Rosenblum won the case with the help of Tom McGee, an attorney versed in civil law.
"A lot of people would take that case and say, ‘OK, it’s Marshall Faulk. We probably have a pretty good chance of winning around here.’ I have a clean record, I haven’t been one to be in a lot of trouble," said Faulk. "But Scott, he put in some time."
And the result was something to watch, said Faulk, who compares Rosenblum’s approach to law to his own approach to football.
"You know Michael Jordan is the best and you’ve watched him on TV," Faulk explained. "But when you sit down and you watch him on the court, man, it’s different being there. It’s different sitting there, watching it. And it’s different when it’s your life. It’s different when it pertains to you. He’s good."
His family can attest to the time Rosenblum puts into cases and the fact that his career is ever-present. But they say they’ve learned to make do.
His mother, Barbara Rosenblum, raves about two months last year when she helped fill in for her son’s secretary, who was on maternity leave.
"Did I do it? Did I love it?" she asks, confessing to checking with her son’s partners to see what he was eating for lunch. "Are you kidding? … I hated for her to come back."
Georgeanne Rosenblum, Scott’s wife of 17 years, has learned to accept the constant ringing of his cell phone. Their children, 12-year-old triplets Hayley, Cole and Alec, and 8-year-old Reed, surround and drape their father during the pockets of time he’s home, and look forward to the annual phone-free vacation he takes with them to Mexico.
While he’s rarely home, the kids are frequent visitors at his law office, where they busy themselves with a copier, a computer, an old-fashioned typewriter, one of the partner’s candy drawers and another’s pinball machine.
"It gets frustrating sometimes, the amount of time, the effort he puts into it, and we lose from him because of that time," said Georgeanne. "But the time we do spend with him is always great."
Adds Scott: "My family, I will say, is largely responsible for a good portion of whatever success I’ve enjoyed. The fact of the matter is I’m working 24-7 and I understand that the people I’m representing are in crisis. … I don’t shut down."
Checks in the system
Rosenblum has his rules.
He never wears a blood-colored tie in a homicide case. He runs every morning, trial or not. He responds to every phone call and piece of mail, a practice that often keeps him working until 11 p.m. or later. And, he said, he refuses to present somebody on the witness stand to lie.
That doesn’t mean he won’t defend a guilty person, though.
Some of the people whose stories Rosenblum supports, hands he holds and honor he defends are innocent. Some are not. That, Rosenblum said, is not the issue.
The issue, he says, is about having checks in the system. About not picking and choosing who is entitled to constitutional protections based on how the case appears. About holding the state to its burden of proof – even if it means freeing a guilty person.
"If you start saying, ‘OK, … this person is so obviously guilty that we’re going to dispense with meeting every protection that we put in place to protect the innocent,’ then it’s going to break down," he said. "The law is probably put in place for the very guiltiest of us so that it can protect all of us.
"If they can’t get it right, I am proud to walk out of the court with a guilty person."
This is where Rosenblum, and others in the criminal-defense business, rack up enemies and naysayers. To many, defending accused rapists, murderers and molesters is unforgivable.
Once, while at a charity benefit, a woman made a beeline for Rosenblum, told him she wanted to shake his hand and then "said some rather vile things," the attorney said. The woman was related to a teenager who had accused a businessman of having sex with her. With Rosenblum as his attorney, the man was acquitted on six counts of statutory rape and sodomy.
In May 1999, some of Rosenblum’s neighbors in Clayton expressed disdain that he had defended a middle-school student who had sent a threatening letter to Clayton Middle School in what appeared to be retaliation for a suspension.
And in Kuchar’s recent trial, Rosenblum infuriated members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"Anyone who can get a hung jury despite a 20-minute taped confession has to be pretty crafty," said David Clohessy, head of SNAP in St. Louis. "I, of course, don’t know how he can sleep at night."
There are also plenty of clients whose cases didn’t turn out as they had hoped.
"He’s definitely a good lawyer," St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said. "But he’s lost a lot of cases, too."
Among them, the case of John DeVanny of St. Louis, who was convicted in 1998 of involuntary manslaughter in a "road rage" accident that killed Jennifer Hywari, 22, of Florissant; Ahmad Adisa, also of St. Louis, convicted last year of killing professional boxer Ray Lathon in what authorities said was a murder for hire; and Anthony Payne of Normandy, who was convicted in March in the 1995 killing of Nathaniel Massey, a murder captured partly on videotape.
Rosenblum’s greatest naysayer, though, used to work alongside him.
In January 1997, Rosenblum formed a partnership with Brad Kessler, another successful criminal defense attorney. But the partnership split in April 1998, a month before a murder trial. At the time, Rosenblum and Kessler were barely speaking with each other.
Their client, John Winfield, had been accused in the 1996 murders of Arthea Sanders and Shawnee Murphy. Kessler defended Winfield in the guilt portion of the trial, and Winfield was convicted. Rosenblum represented him in the penalty portion, after which the jury recommended a death sentence.
Kessler later maintained that the breakdown with Rosenblum affected Winfield’s case. Kessler testified in a post-trial hearing that Winfield had decided at the last moment to testify on his own behalf, but that Rosenblum waved off Kessler’s attempt to tell him.
Rosenblum maintains that never happened.
In December, the Missouri Supreme Court said the attorneys had properly represented Winfield despite their differences.
Kessler remains angry at Rosenblum.
"Because of his narcissistic personality disorder," Kessler fumed, "he’s the first to accept credit, he’ll be the last one to accept responsibility."
Responded Rosenblum: "Suffice it to say, we are completely different personalities and have a different approach to the practice of law. I am very passionate about the profession, as well as the clients that seek me out to represent them. I always consider it an honor."
A helping hand
For those who pan Rosenblum, there are plenty of others who revere him.
When Jermaine Wooten of Florissant was 19, he got into trouble with the law. He was bright and had promise, said Rosenblum, who defended him. So the attorney suggested Wooten go to law school and offered to hire him if he did.
Wooten, now 31, went on to work for Rosenblum while a student and graduated from law school in 2001. He will get his law license next July, five years from the date he was released from probation.
"If it weren’t for Scott Rosenblum, I wouldn’t have gone to law school," Wooten said. "I want to be like him."
Michael "Big Man" Powell, 32, hired Rosenblum as his attorney in a 1998 drug case. After four years in prison, he began doing odd jobs for Rosenblum.
"He keeps me busy, he keeps me away from the illegal life," Powell said. "From the time I get up to the time I go to bed, he’s got me doing something. … And he didn’t have to do this."
While Rosenblum has represented many people accused of many things, he has declined cases. But not many.
Years ago, he turned down a case in which a baby was burned. The child was the same age as Rosenblum’s triplets, and it struck a chord. Some child porn cases have elicited similar responses. But the main reason he has turned down cases, he said, is because he determined he wasn’t the best advocate for those individuals.
"But frankly," he said, "there are very few cases I would turn down because of that. I am completely committed. Everybody deserves a right to the best defense they can get.
"Here’s the question: How’s it feel if you think the person is guilty and they walk free? I would think I would feel 10 times better than if I remotely believed the person was innocent and I had anything to do with locking this person up. I couldn’t live with that. . . .
"I can’t think of anything more honorable than what I do."
The Rosenblum file
Here are some of the cases criminal-defense attorney Scott Rosenblum has defended in recent years:
– John White. The Miamisburg, Ohio, man was acquitted in 1991 of second-degree murder in the shooting of Jennings police Sgt. Kenneth Koeller four years earlier.
– Dennis Blackman Jr., the son of a St. Louis police captain. Blackman was convicted of second-degree murder in 1992 in the fatal shooting of St. Louis County police Officer JoAnn Liscombe in 1991. Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch personally tried the case.
– Richard DeCaro. The St. Charles man is serving a life term for conspiring to have his wife, Elizabeth DeCaro, killed in 1992. Acquitted in St. Charles County Circuit Court in 1994 (his attorney in that trial was Donald L. Wolff), DeCaro was found guilty in federal court two years later of conspiracy and murder for hire.
– Matthew Funke. The St. John man already was facing life in prison for one murder when he faced the death penalty in the 1990 rape and killing of a 12-year-old Breckenridge Hills girl, Che Sims. He was convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder instead.
– Dr. Joseph Brown. The dentist was acquitted in 1994 in the fatal shooting of his wife, Suzanne, in Creve Coeur. Brown testified that he thought he was shooting an intruder when he shot his wife of 26 years in the hallway of their home in 1992.
-Dan Dierdorf Jr. The son of former Cardinals football great Dan Dierdorf pleaded guilty in 1995 to felonious restraint and was sentenced to five years’ probation and 45 days in jail. He was accused of holding a woman at knifepoint and sexually assaulting her. In exchange for the guilty plea, authorities dropped two counts of rape, two counts of sodomy and five counts of armed criminal action.
– Rahsetnu Jenkins. The former Missouri Tigers wide receiver pleaded guilty in 1995 to reduced charges of misdemeanor sexual misconduct in the first degree and misdemeanor third-degree assault. Jenkins had been charged with felony rape and felony sexual assault.
– Keith Bearden. A violin dealer turned swindler, Bearden pleaded guilty in 1997 to 14 counts of wire and mail fraud. The former Shrewsbury shop owner was accused of stealing cash, rare violins and other instruments from musicians. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison and was ordered to pay restitution to 11 victims.
– Michael Carson. The former St. Louis police officer was acquitted in 1997 of rape. Carson had been accused of raping a woman after a traffic stop in 1995. Rosenblum argued that the woman must have been lying when she claimed she had not met the officer before the alleged assault. She gave the 911 operator Carson’s first name, but his name tag listed only his last name.
– Christopher Santillan. Rosenblum defended Santillan, a former Country Day School honor student, in a retrial on charges he killed his lifelong friend, Vinay Singh, in 1992. In the retrial, in 1998, a jury convicted Santillan of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
– Leonard Little. The Rams defensive player pleaded guilty in 1999 to involuntary manslaughter in an October 1998 drunken-driving fatality. Killed was Susan Gutweiler of Oakville. Little was sentenced to 90 nights in jail, four years’ probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
– Jim Hanifan. The Rams offensive line coach was charged in September 1999 with driving while intoxicated. The following spring, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years’ probation with 180 days in jail with a suspended imposition of sentence.
– Guy Westmoreland. The Florissant man was convicted of murder in 2001 for his role in a conspiracy to have Debra Abeln of Sappington killed in 1997 at a Cahokia airport. Westmoreland, who operated a cocaine-smuggling ring with Abeln’s husband, Richard Abeln, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
– Arthur G. Stevenson III. A financial adviser from Eureka, Stevenson was accused of embezzling $4 million from more than 50 investors. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of mail fraud and one count of embezzling from an employee benefit plan. He was sentenced to seven years and three months in federal prison and was ordered to repay his victims.
– Tammy Holman. The Festus woman was tried on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her husband, Larry Holman, in 2000. After jurors couldn’t reach a verdict in January, she accepted a plea bargain to a conspiracy charge and was sentenced to seven years in prison. The gunman, Charles Miller of De Soto, said Tammy Holman had asked him to kill her husband.