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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Lawyers in Hells Angels Drug Case Are Study in Contrasts

Trial: The prosecutor and defense attorney differ in background, experience and style, but they share a mutual respect.

April 15, 2001|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One is a Boy Scout, the other a godfather's son.

One is a veteran street cop turned Ventura County prosecutor, the other a former Naval Academy cadet who entered criminal law to defend his Mafioso father in a Los Angeles racketeering case.

The fast-rising Ventura prosecutor can boost his career by winning the longest and most complicated case in county history. The veteran Century City defense lawyer can restore a reputation marred by drug addiction, unpaid income taxes and a recent state bar suspension.

For the next year or two, Jeffrey G. Bennett and Anthony P. Brooklier will serve as legal bookends in a massive case that charges national Hells Angels leader George Christie Jr. with running a criminal gang that stole drugs from an Air Force clinic and sold them to high school students. In all, 28 defendants are charged on 132 criminal counts.

Bennett, 45, a chief deputy district attorney, is a tightly wound, tight-lipped ex-motorcycle officer who lifts weights and surfs competitively. He has spent four years preparing the Hells Angels case and now leads a four-lawyer team hoping for trial this year.

"I do what I'm told; it's a job," Bennett said last week, speaking via cell phone while on a family hike near Yosemite Falls. "Since July it's been a seven-day-a-week job. I think about it 24 hours a day. The fact that I'm talking to you while I'm supposed to be enjoying myself should tell you a lot. It's been very tough on all of us."

Brooklier, 55, one of the most respected and successful criminal lawyers in Los Angeles until his own legal troubles emerged in 1998, is perfectly coiffed and affable. He is known for meticulous preparation and a disarming courtroom style. He took the Angels case just three weeks after serving a three-month bar suspension.

Off drugs since 1997, Brooklier said he had turned to cocaine and his finances had fallen into disarray in the years after he lost a federal racketeering case against his father, Dominic Brooklier. The onetime Mafia boss in Los Angeles died in prison in 1984.

"That was an excruciating experience, and I blamed myself for years," Brooklier said during a break in a San Jose trial last week. "But I deserved the suspension, and I've been treated fairly. You learn lessons in life. And I'm going to hold my head up high and do the best I can. But you can never become arrogant and say it's over. It's never over. You run scared every day."

The Hells Angels case is compelling in its own right because of Christie's squeaky-clean image and charges that he directed a team of teenage drug dealers who peddled Vicodin and Valium on or near school campuses in Ojai and Ventura. And because Christie's estranged wife, adult son and daughter--an attorney herself--are also defendants.

But the matchup of Bennett and Brooklier adds a sharp contrast in lawyerly style, experience and background.

Bennett, who buys his suits off the rack at JCPenney is a self-taught computer whiz whose spreadsheets track intricate webs of criminal conduct. Brooklier, whose suits are tailored, still plots his strategies on yellow note pads and in three-ring binders, and he says he doesn't even know how to turn on a computer.

Both will need their organizational skills in the Hells Angels case. Prosecutors presented 120,000 pages of evidence, scores of witnesses and hundreds of audio and videotapes during an eight-month grand jury proceeding.

Defense Is Facing a Mass of Details

Bennett's 197-page indictment against Christie--just one of eight in the case--is the longest and most detailed Brooklier has ever seen. And he has never heard of a case with so much grand jury evidence.

"It's going to be a challenge just to manage," Brooklier said. "Even if you've read everything and you know it, you'll find yourself in trial and you will have to know instantly where to find that one piece of paper you need right then."

Brooklier said he and longtime partner Donald Marks will need help as the trial approaches to match the efforts of Bennett and Mark Pachowicz, his partner on the Angels case. Two more computer-savvy prosecutors--Scott Hendrickson and Kevin Suh--have been added by Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury.

"I go into this with a little trepidation," Brooklier said. "There's so much work to do. We have a good client and his life is in our hands, and you feel such responsibility. People hate lawyers, and I never know why. I practice from a firm and complete basis of total insecurity."

For now, Brooklier is juggling early bail motions in Ventura with trial responsibilities in San Jose, where he is defending a client accused of stealing computer chips. He said he had 27 three-ring binders in his hotel room, each tabbed and indexed to lead him through every detail of the case.

But trials are not all organization. Emotions play a big role too.

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