The Broadcom Corp. founders accused of engineering a massive stock fraud have always been a study in contrasts: Henry Samueli, the professorial strategist who bought the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, and Henry T. Nicholas III, the driven deal maker whose personal life has made headlines.
The differences seem to extend to the lawyers they've chosen to defend them against federal allegations.
Nicholas has hired a roomful of high-profile lawyers known for famous courtroom defenses, including Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., who represented Iran-Contra figure Oliver L. North.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 23, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Broadcom lawyers: An article in Business on Monday on the legal representation for Broadcom Corp.'s two founders said John Z. DeLorean was a former Ford Motor Co. executive. DeLorean worked for General Motors Corp.
Also on the Nicholas team is Donald Re, who defended renegade auto executive John Z. DeLorean, and Brad A. Brian, attorney for Columbia Savings & Loan Chairman Thomas Spiegel, a key player in the 1980s S&L debacle.
Samueli attorney Gordon Greenberg, by comparison, is known as a behind-the-scenes negotiator, a "quiet bulldog" on complex cases, as one legal publication said. A former federal prosecutor, he helped convict Barry Minkow, a 1980s teen tycoon, in the notorious ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaning fraud.
His private-practice clients have included billionaire presidential aspirant H. Ross Perot, whose company came under scrutiny in connection with California's 2002 energy crisis, and the oil executive who supervised the captain of the Exxon Valdez.
Samueli and Nicholas were accused of fraud in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But the greater threat is posed by the U.S. attorney's Santa Ana office, which has identified the pair in court as "potential co-conspirators" in a criminal investigation that so far has produced one guilty plea by a former Broadcom executive.
With that investigation unfolding, Nicholas' crowded defense roster didn't surprise Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, an expert on high-profile prosecutions.
"This happens to be an extraordinary number of good lawyers he's going through," Levenson said. "But if you're going to load up on good lawyers, the time to do it is pre-indictment. That's when you still have a chance to defuse the whole case."
But corporate fraud expert John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York, said the Nicholas team reminded him of the phrase "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
"There are problems with too many stars," Coffee said. As an example, Coffee cited the case of former football star O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murder by a Los Angeles jury after assembling his own notably large legal entourage.
"A lot of O.J.'s dream team was axed before the end of his trial, and I would be surprised if all these guys are still around by the first day of trial," Coffee said.
Certainly, Nicholas' attorneys have had their successes.
The FBI videotaped DeLorean in a Los Angeles hotel with a suitcase of cocaine, declaring: "It's better than gold." Federal authorities accused Spiegel of looting Beverly Hills-based Columbia, whose failure cost taxpayers $1.1 billion. The government charged North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, with illegally financing guerrillas in Nicaragua.
All three eventually prevailed against every charge the Justice Department brought.
Sullivan, whose firm, Williams & Connolly, is a Washington-based powerhouse, declined to comment on the SEC suit, as did other Nicholas attorneys.
Prominent attorneys have also been retained by two other defendants in the SEC case: David A. Dull, Broadcom's general counsel until he too stepped down Wednesday, and William J. Ruehle, Broadcom's former chief financial officer. He retired in 2006, after Broadcom's internal investigation implicated him in the backdating of stock options.
Dull is represented by O'Melveny & Myers attorney James Asperger, a criminal specialist who, as a Los Angeles prosecutor in the 1980s, teamed up with Greenberg to send Minkow to prison for seven years for defrauding investors and banks. Asperger couldn't be reached for comment, and another O'Melveny attorney representing Dull, Seth Aronson, declined to comment.
Ruehle's attorney, Richard Marmaro of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, is another former prosecutor and was Brian's co-defense counsel on the Spiegel case. He has advocated for a host of high-profile defendants, including Michael G. Stamenson, the Merrill Lynch salesman who sold former Orange County Treasurer Robert L. Citron the bulk of the risky securities that toppled the county's investment fund in 1994.
But the buzz in the legal world was about Nicholas' team, with Sullivan nudging Brian aside as lead counsel.
Brian's firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, is one of the most prominent in Los Angeles. Besides Brian, Munger attorneys who have represented Nicholas include Gregory J. Weingart, former head of the major frauds unit for the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, and John W. Spiegel, another former federal prosecutor.