WASHINGTON — Three members of the President's Commission on Organized Crime on Monday criticized the fanfare that surrounded the government's announcement last month of the indictment of five reputed Mafia leaders in New York, contending that it could jeopardize their trial.
Commissioner Barbara A. Rowan, speaking at a commission symposium on mob lawyers, said U.S. Atty. Rudolph W. Giuliani, who will prosecute the case, had turned the indictment into a "media event" with a press conference and subsequent television appearances.
"I don't think such behavior would have been tolerated a few years ago," said Rowan, a former prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office now headed by Giuliani.
Commission Chairman Irving R. Kaufman and retired Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, a panel member, also criticized the post-indictment press conference but did not single out Giuliani.
Kaufman, a federal appeals court judge, once served on a committee named by former Chief Justice Earl Warren to study the frequent collision between freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial. The committee, he recalled, said "nothing doing" to actions that would jeopardize a case by making it difficult to pick an impartial jury.
Stewart contended that a post-indictment press conference by prosecutors violates Justice Department rules.
But David Margolis, chief of the department's organized crime and racketeering section, told the commission that there are no such rules and contended that Giuliani had not gone beyond the language of the detailed indictment in discussing the case.
Margolis noted that indictments under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization and Continuing Criminal Enterprise laws, under which the reputed New York Mafia leaders were indicted, are much more detailed than charges brought under previous laws. "You're criticizing the detail of the indictment," he said.
"You don't have to have an announcement," Kaufman replied.
Giuliani's press conference was also attended by FBI Director William H. Webster and Stephen Trott, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. Referring to their participation, Rowan said: "That whole package makes it difficult to have a fair trial."
At the symposium, the commission discussed its staff's charge that a small number of "mob lawyers" have become integral parts of criminal conspiracies, using their legal credentials to further the purposes of the underworld organizations. But two attorneys who have represented defendants with organized crime links contested that charge.
The staff's profile of a mob lawyer, based on questioning of an attorney who represented Mafia family members for more than 10 years, portrayed someone who carried messages from the mob boss to a defendant to plead guilty or to change his testimony to protect higher-ups in the organization.
The mob boss or underboss, not the defendant, makes all the decisions about trial strategy, and fees are paid in cash, jewelry or other hard-to-trace assets, according to the staff.
Albert J. Krieger, a Miami lawyer who said he had represented "notorious figures coast-to-coast and border-to-border," told the commission: "I've never been asked to do any of the things described here."
And Joseph J. Balliro, the second defense attorney, said the commission had neglected to comb through the many thousands of hours of electronic surveillance of mob figures by the government. He contended that the recorded conversations would make the commission "proud of the criminal defense bar" and called the problem of the mob-involved lawyer "minimal."
But Kaufman argued that whether or not such practices are "pervasive" misses the point. "No matter how small the number of lawyers who engage in the practices," he said, "they do contaminate the (criminal justice) system and the bar."