The Chicago Syndicate: After a Trial, the Tables Are Turned on a Defense Lawyer

Monday, May 08, 2006

After a Trial, the Tables Are Turned on a Defense Lawyer

Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito

Bruce Cutler, whose cross-examinations are so ardently aggressive that those who undergo them are often said to have been "Bruce-ified," is expected to be cross-examined himself next month at a highly unusual hearing in the continuing saga of the so-called Mafia Cops trial.

As one of New York's fiercest — and most physically formidable — lawyers, Mr. Cutler has always taken a bellicose approach, making a name for himself as the sort of lawyer who will slam down documents and stretch the limits of invective on behalf of a client. On June 29, however, he will most likely — for the first time in his 30-year career — take the witness stand himself, this time in his own defense.

His former client at the trial, Louis J. Eppolito, a retired New York detective, has accused him in court documents and in the press of shoddy legal work, saying that Mr. Cutler roundly ignored him at the trial and would not allow him to testify before the jury. On April 6, Mr. Eppolito was convicted of helping in at least eight murders by the mob and, despite the fact that he once professed respect for Mr. Cutler, he has now turned against him, hoping that the verdict will be set aside.

As part of that process, Judge Jack B. Weinstein has decided to hold a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn to determine, as the judge wrote in his order, "the competency of the defense," which is to say whether Mr. Cutler botched the job. No matter its result, the hearing is assured to be a courtroom smoker in the old style, as Mr. Cutler (brash, verbose and built like a tugboat) settles in against Mr. Eppolito's new lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy (smooth voice, smooth style, smooth suit).

It is even possible that Mr. Eppolito will take the stand and tell the judge what he has already told The Daily News: He was vastly unhappy with Mr. Cutler's work, despite appearances at trial. On the day of his defense, such as it was ( it was 13 minutes long), Mr. Eppolito told reporters, "I have faith in Bruce and always will," and then, when the verdict was read, the two men hugged — adoringly, it seemed — in open court.

Nonetheless, in papers filed this week, Mr. Eppolito said that, during the trial, he took to writing notes to Mr. Cutler and "was routinely told that I was annoying him and to stop."

Mr. Cutler did not respond yesterday to phone calls seeking comment, but he responded to the charges earlier this week by calling Mr. Eppolito "a desperate man" in "desperate times."

Thanks to Alan Feuer

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