The Dope Bowl

Lawyers, goons, money--and some very curious sex toys. Laura Miller does the post-game analysis of the Michael Irvin trial.

One prosecutor, who anxiously watched the case from afar, observed that Irvin's lawyers were putting on a classic O.J. defense.

"The defense's job in any case is to keep the jury's eye off of the ball," the prosecutor explained. "Stay away from the fact that his fingerprints are on the plate that has the dope on it. Attack everything else. Attack everybody else. Go down so many rabbit trails that you lose sight of the ball. If the lawyers are successful at doing that, fine. But if the jurors keep their eyes on the ball, they'll have to see he was with all the dope."

It was, of course, the only defense that made sense. But not all of Irvin's lawyers were in agreement on that. In fact, at the beginning of the trial a rift developed between defense lawyers because one of Irvin's token African-American lawyers, state Senator Royce West, wanted to hinge the defense on the O.J. race card.

"I really think Royce was on this case because Michael Irvin thought there would be more blacks on the jury, and Royce would play a more determinant role in that," says someone in Irvin's defense camp. "And if four or five jurors had been black, that would have been more of a factor in the defense. But that wasn't the case when we were left with only one black on the jury. But Royce was planning to go there anyway."

What's insanely ironic about this is that if Michael Irvin wanted a black lawyer involved in the case to help him win over black jurors, he couldn't have picked a worse lawyer. Not because West is totally inept--he was velvety smooth during jury selection--but in the end, several jurors were struck by the prosecution on the grounds that they knew West personally, simply because he is an Oak Cliff-area politician. He had either schmoozed them at a function, given them campaign literature, or generally kissed their babies. So, before any testimony could be put on about alleged racial injustice, West had caused disqualification of the most receptive audience.

When West wanted to play the O.J. card anyway--a la Johnnie Cochran--fellow defense lawyer Don Godwin made it clear in strategy meetings that it wasn't going to be enough to, for example, try to paint Irving cops as racist for saying that Michael Irvin's eyes were bloodshot on the night of March 4. West had made a point during opening arguments to say that all African-American men had bloodshot eyes, and that Irving cops were just too ethnically insensitive to realize that. (One of the memorable moments in the trial came when the black cop--one of the four cops who went to the hotel--said, no, Irvin's eyes were more red that night than your average black man's.)

In truth, Irvin's lawyers--Royce West and the three white guys--were no Dream Team.

West has a great voice and a nice rapport with folks, but he's not very crisp when it comes to making a cogent legal argument, and listening to him pompously explaining to the judge what the "intent of the Texas Legislature" was on every statute that was reviewed got awfully tiresome.

Kevin Clancy is a flat, grossly unimpressive criminal lawyer who was far too antagonistic to the prosecution's witnesses and had enormous trouble advancing the ball for the home team. Moreover, he was in desperate need of some good posture.

Clancy had represented Irvin on the airline-ticket scandal and the Erik Williams subpoena. So Irvin had stuck with him, naēvely thinking that Clancy would just waltz him through the drug arrest, too. When Irvin got indicted, though, Jerry Jones decided that his star player needed better legal help and told Irvin to add Jones' own lawyer to the defense team.

Don Godwin is a civil trial lawyer who, for the past five years, has handled Jones' business matters, things like contract disputes. Though he's not a criminal lawyer, Godwin has stepped in on occasion at Jones' request when Cowboys players have gotten into particularly sticky legal trouble. Godwin handled the Erik Williams alleged rape case, in which the supposed victim ultimately and abruptly backed off. He also handled Williams' DWI case, and when Irvin and Alfredo Roberts got caught in the motel room with topless dancers and cocaine, Jones recommended Godwin to Roberts.

Roberts was not indicted. Irvin was. Godwin joined Irvin's defense team.
Though Godwin was third fiddle to Clancy and West, who were already on the case and were bona fide criminal defense attorneys, Godwin ended up outshining both of them, which didn't take a lot of effort. Cross-examination emerged as his forte, and when the prosecution pulled out its star witness, topless dancer Rachelle Smith, Irvin insisted that Godwin be the one to cross-examine her.

But the defense lawyer who really shone on this case was Ron Goranson, who was in the least sexy job of all--that of book lawyer, researching case law to argue specific points to the judge. He came off as bright, articulate, and not into showboating--qualities sorely lacking on Irvin's side of the courtroom.

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