Veteran attorney David Kenner, embroiled in the latest controversy involving Death Row Records owner Marion "Suge" Knight, is known as a very aggressive, well-prepared criminal defense lawyer who establishes strong rapport with his clients.
Over the last two decades, those clients have included alleged murderers, drug dealers and stock swindlers. In recent years, Knight, his record company and the firm's artists, including rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg, have become the centerpieces of his practice.
"He is one of the hardest-working, compassionate and intelligent lawyers that I have met in my travels throughout the country--a workaholic who is devoted to seeing his client's problems resolved in the best way possible," said Las Vegas defense lawyer David Chesnoff, who served as co-counsel with Kenner on two cases brought against Knight there.
In a brief interview, Kenner, a 54-year-old graduate of USC Law School, said he first met Knight four to five years ago and since then has represented him in a variety of civil and criminal matters. He became principal lawyer for Death Row in late 1994.
Now, the Encino attorney is in the middle of an investigation of a potential conflict of interest involving Knight and the deputy district attorney who prosecuted him for assault. About a year after Knight settled the assault case with a plea bargain, Death Row signed the teenage daughter of prosecutor Lawrence M. Longo to a record contract while Longo was monitoring Knight's probation.
In addition, Knight lived this summer in a Malibu home owned by Longo's family. The district attorney's office took Longo off the case last month and he is under investigation. Longo said the house had been rented to Kenner.
On Monday, a Los Angeles judge issued a bench warrant for Kenner's arrest after the attorney did not appear for a hearing on the possible revocation of Knight's probation.
Judge John Ouderkirk said news articles about the case in recent days "allege potentially very serious charges of unethical and/or criminal actions on the part of Mr. Longo, the deputy D.A. formerly assigned to the case and Mr. Kenner, the defendant's lead counsel of record."
Kenner said he was mystified at Ouderkirk's action, particularly since two other attorneys were in court to represent Knight, but said he would be in court Wednesday for the next hearing.
"I'm not going to disrespect the judge's order," Kenner said.
Attorney Donald M. Re, Kenner's attorney, said his client has done nothing wrong by failing to appear in court or in his dealings with Longo. "Without a critical look, people are jumping to conclusions," he said.
Re has worked with Kenner on several cases, including their successful defense of Snoop Doggy Dogg, one of the nation's preeminent rap artists, on murder charges.
But that was hardly Kenner's first newsworthy case.
In 1988, Kenner mounted a particularly aggressive defense for carpet cleaning entrepreneur Barry Minkow. Kenner told jurors that Minkow was beaten, threatened at gunpoint and nearly drowned by mobsters who had taken over his company. The jury did not buy Kenner's "duress" defense; Minkow was convicted of 57 counts of securities fraud, money laundering and other crimes and received a 25-year prison sentence.
Now on parole, Minkow says he is a born-again Christian and admits that he was guilty. He describes Kenner as "one of the best friends I've ever had. He was there when no one else was."
Minkow said that Kenner flew to Colorado to help him at a parole hearing--without asking for a fee--and gave him a job at Kenner's law office when he got out of prison. "I'm behind him 100%. He's a man of integrity," Minkow said.
Both prosecutors in the Minkow case also praised Kenner. "He's a terrific trial lawyer . . . a straight shooter," said James R. Asperger, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice in Los Angeles.
"He can be extraordinarily tough in the courtroom," said Asperger's co-counsel in the Minkow case, Gordon Greenberg, who also is in private practice in Los Angeles.
That toughness was very much on display in the Snoop Doggy Dogg trial earlier this year, where Kenner was particularly adept at making the witnesses look foolish.
He hammered prosecution witnesses on contradictions in their accounts of events. Through his wear-them-down prodding, Kenner got one of the friends of Philip Woldemariam--who was shot by the rapper's bodyguard--to admit on the stand that he removed a gun from the waistband of his dying friend in an attempt to frame the rapper for murder.
By the end of the trial, the jurors were laughing and rolling their eyes at the witnesses. The jury acquitted the rapper and his bodyguard of first- and second-degree murder charges. They deadlocked on manslaughter charges, and the district attorney's office decided to drop the matter.
Re stressed that Kenner "not only cares about doing a good job, he cares about his client." He and Chesnoff noted that Kenner became close to Knight before he became a music industry millionaire.
Asked about his relationship with Knight, Kenner responded: "My feeling is that once you have a rapport with a client and if you believe in them, it's impossible to walk away. When I'm in it, I'm in it. I believe very much in Mr. Knight."
Times staff writers Tina Daunt and Chuck Philips contributed to this article.