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Legal Weapon : Jay Alan Sekulow is the Christian Right's leading lion in the judicial arena. Those he opposes say he's a zealot, an opportunist--and a formidable foe.

September 02, 1993|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He married a fellow student, Pam McPherson, a Christian, and went on to Mercer Law School, where he graduated second in his class.

Sekulow established a firm with a friend, another converted Jew named Stuart J. Roth. Before long, they had nine attorneys, two certified public accountants and three paralegals. Sekulow prospered. By the mid-1980s, he was earning $250,000 a year and had bought a large house in the suburbs, entertaining frequently and lavishly.

But Sekulow, whose first job out of law school was as a prosecutor with the IRS' tax litigation division, was caught flat-footed when IRS regulations changed in the mid-1980s, causing his law firm, which controlled the construction company, to collapse within three months.

According to documents filed with the federal bankruptcy court, when Sekulow filed in 1987 he listed $13,071,748 in debts and $638,000 in assets.

But even before the bankruptcy, Sekulow had a rocky relationship with some of the lawyers who worked for him, several of whom successfully sued him and his firm.

Joyce F. Glucksman, who has the disabling condition spina bifida, left a job she had for eight years to come to work for Sekulow, assured by him that her health coverage would be secure. When Glucksman was fired in what she was told was a cost-cutting move, she sued and won a judgment of $1.8 million, but collected only $5,000 and still has no health insurance.

At the nadir of his career--broke and without a law firm--Sekulow's professional career was literally resurrected by Jews for Jesus, the group whose campus visit sparked his conversion. After a short stint doing First Amendment work for a New York firm, Sekulow was asked by Jews for Jesus to represent them before the U.S. Supreme Court in the LAX case in 1987.

This, legal experts say, was the equivalent of being handed a winning lottery ticket, because the Los Angeles statute, aimed at protecting visitors to the 1984 Olympics, explicitly barred First Amendment activity and thus was clearly unconstitutional.

"The first time I ever really argued a constitutional issue was to the Supreme Court," Sekulow said, still marveling at what happened when he was "down for the count."

But Sekulow's inexperience with constitutional litigation showed, and his maiden appearance before the high court was not an impressive one. American Lawyer magazine noted that he had the temerity to interrupt the justices, calling him "rude and aggressive . . . so nervous that at times he appeared nearly out of control."

Nonetheless, he won in a unanimous decision.

Looking back on his career, Sekulow said that his legal victories belong to God: "(T)he freedom to proclaim the gospel rises above Satan's smoke-screens and lawyers' hot air. We are winning."

Times researcher Edith Stanley contributed to this article from Atlanta.

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