Albert Krieger, Susan Van Dusen’s law partner for over thirty years and mentor, died two weeks ago at the age of 96. Many of us who have been practicing for decades didn’t have the privilege of having a female mentor, simply because of the lack of other women in the field. But, for those of us who had a wonderful male colleague serve as our mentor, none were as lucky as Susan Van Dusen, who had Albert Krieger. While I have committed to highlighting only women on this blog, I am making an exception here not only because of what Albert meant to the entire defense bar, but because of what he meant to my beloved law partner and all that he did to support her in her career.
If any of you have worked with Susan, you know she has the blood of a fierce defender running through her veins. Albert used to say “Don’t be fooled by her pearls and Mary Janes. She is tough as nails.” Our clients are often shocked by what comes out of her mouth, but they quickly come to understand that (to use her description) she is like a mother bird sitting on her eggs in protecting them. Susan would be the first to tell you that she credits this well-honed instinct to protect and defend her clients to famed criminal defense attorney Albert Krieger.
For those of you who did not know Albert Krieger, he practiced as a criminal defense lawyer for over sixty years. Just last week, the New York Times highlighted Albert’s life and legal career. He practiced law in New York City for twenty-two years before relocating to Miami, Florida in the 1970s. He was a founder of the National Criminal Defense College and was one of the founding members of NACDL, serving as its president from 1979-1980. He also served as Chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section and served on the ABA Justice Kennedy Commission. He was highly recognized in his career — receiving the Charles R. English Award from the ABA Criminal Justice Section, the Lifetime Achievement Award and Heeney Award from NACDL, and the Fifth Annual Award for Significant Contributions to the Criminal Justice System from the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, to name just a few.
Susan met Albert when she was a young lawyer clerking for United States District Court Judge Patricia J. Boyle in the Eastern District of Michigan. Albert was defending a physician/lab owner in a healthcare fraud trial in the same courthouse. Albert was looking for an associate with federal experience and was given Susan’s name. After interviewing Susan, he offered her a job. There were very few female federal judges back then and Susan was lucky to be working for one, so she immediately went to her for guidance. Judge Boyle picked up the phone and called Judge Mary Johnson Lowe from the Southern District of New York to get her advice. Judge Lowe told Judge Boyle, “This young woman has an opportunity of a lifetime – Albert Krieger is the finest lawyer I have ever known.” Judge Boyle told Susan she had to take the job with Albert, and that was it. That night Susan called Albert and accepted.
Susan packed up and moved to Miami, Florida. During their 30-year partnership, Susan and Albert tried cases coast to coast and border to border. They tried over forty-four criminal trials in twenty-two different federal districts throughout the country. They were involved in representing defendants in some of our country’s most well-known prosecutions — including John Gotti, Joseph Bonanno, Sr., the owner of the Aladdin Hotel, the former owner of the Tropicana Hotel, the Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, a member of the Balestrieri Milwaukee crime family, a defendant in the Wedtech case, and they represented many indicted lawyers throughout their work together. Most of their trials were months in length. Most of their cases were prosecuted out of Main Justice, involving multi-count indictments with very complex and novel issues and extensive evidence and discovery.
Cris Arguedas, herself a well-known criminal defense attorney, shared with me her experience trying a case with Susan and Albert: “My partner, Penny Cooper, and I tried the Wedtech case in the SDNY with Albert and Susan. It was a RICO/Securities fraud case that lasted 8 weeks and was filled with complex facts, loads of witnesses, thousands of documents. Every person who got up during the closing arguments had sheafs of notes on the podium and spoke for several hours. Not Albert. He got up to give a comprehensive, powerful, detailed, emotional, rousing closing that lasted the same several hours. He brought one thing to the podium – a yellow post-it note! [It had a few phrases on it that he didn’t want to forget.] The partnership Susan and Albert had was one for the ages. Such respect, admiration, trust, and love passed between them. It was a rare gift for them to have each other, and neither of them took it for granted.”
Susan would say that Albert trusted her with everything and anything – a rare opportunity for a woman at that time. Albert threw Susan into the deep end of the pool and gave her impossible tasks she never thought she could do. She simply had no choice but to rise to the challenge every time. He believed in her and taught her to believe in herself. He had total respect for women, which Susan credits to his wife, Irene. In 1980, there were just a few private female criminal defense lawyers around the country, and Albert put Susan in the thick of the country’s most important prosecutions and gave her opportunities that women didn’t have at that time. Their partnership was one filled with respect and trust. Susan likes to say that during the last five years that Albert practiced (until their last case together in 2011), Albert’s desk was the other side of her desk. When he finally slowed down, he wanted her to have his desk, which still sits in our offices to this day.
Luise Krieger-Martin, Albert’s daughter, who is a Miami-Dade County Judge and who was previously a public defender, considers herself blessed to have had both her father and Susan as her own mentors. She commented on her father’s partnership with Susan by stating: “My father respected Susan from the moment he hired her, but that respect continued to grow and soon became something even more special because the respect became unwavering trust. He especially valued Susan’s ability to challenge him, to stand eye to eye and go toe to toe with him if she disagreed with him on an issue; in fact, he counted on her to do that. Just as Susan would say that he made her a better lawyer, he would say she made him a better lawyer.”
After Albert retired, Susan represented Bobby Ferguson in the Detroit Mayor Corruption Case and Albert was quoted in the Detroit Free Press, when asked about her in the publicity surrounding Ferguson’s hiring of Susan, that, “It’s probably the smartest thing he’s done in his life, …I’ve known Susan for over 30 years….She has participated in some of the heaviest trials. I’ve said on many occasions her IQ is like a telephone number, which probably says it all.”
I can’t even begin to recount all the stories that Susan has shared about Albert, their clients, and the long list of amazing cases they were involved in since we started our partnership over five years ago. Albert is such a part of who Susan is as a lawyer, and she has often said that she learned at the “knee of the master.” She is often heard to say to the other lawyers in our office and to our clients, “Albert used to say,” or “Albert always said.” A couple of years ago, I started to write these sayings down, calling them “Albertisms.” I figured if Albert was going to be our silent law partner, I might as well embrace it. I never had the privilege of working with him, but I can honestly say I feel his spirit and his presence every day I have the privilege of working with Susan.
Here are some Albertisms which guide us and which you will often hear in our office:
• The most important quality in a defense attorney is courage
• We have to walk through the raindrops without getting wet
• We need to walk the picket fence without tearing our pants
• I don’t need to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin
• Up the street the soldiers come marching down (It’s a fact which makes no sense)
• In standing up for what is right, you have to be willing to go to jail for your client
Now, I have the same opportunity to learn at the “knee of the master,” as does our associate Cristina. It is not lost on me, that this time the master is a woman.