When former New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman was accused of assaulting four female romantic partners over several years, he quickly made three smart decisions.
First, he engaged a criminal defense attorney before facing formal charges. Getting a jump start on investigating an allegation, especially pre-charge, as in Schneiderman’s case, can make all the difference for a client. This is especially true when allegations are several years old.
Next, Schneiderman hired a female criminal defense attorney. In the #MeToo era, it’s important to consider hiring a woman to defend a client against allegations made by other women. That choice can serve to level the playing field and remove any appearance of power imbalance between a male attorney and a female accuser during questioning. This can further the perception of an accuser as a victim.
That’s the result that Canadian attorney Marie Henein successfully achieved when defending Jian Ghomeshi, a well-known CBC radio host accused of sexual assault. In that 2016 case, which has many similarities to Schneiderman’s situation, Henein conducted a vigorous investigation and cross examination, which explored the facts surrounding the accusations and issues related to the believability of the accusers. Ultimately, when the accusations were tested in a court of law, as opposed to the media, they did not survive, and Ghomeshi was acquitted.
Schneiderman’s third smart decision was engaging Isabelle A. Kirshner, a partner at Clayman & Rosenberg, and one of New York’s premier criminal defense attorneys. Kirshner is a faculty member of the Intensive Trial Advocacy Program at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and an appointee to the Criminal Justice Act Committee and the Criminal Justice Advocacy Board for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Furthermore, Kirshner has recently been named the 2019 Thurgood Marshall Award recipient as ‘Practitioner of the Year’ by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL).
In the past 25 years, Kirshner has won numerous acquittals in both state and federal court for her clients, including obtaining a favorable result for a doctor accused of sexually abusing multiple patients, and a dismissal of all charges for an individual accused in connection with an online prostitution ring.
Schneiderman resigned on May 7 following publication of an article in The New Yorker in which four women accused him of physical abuse in their relationships or romantic encounters between 2013 and 2017. Schneiderman has made comments in the media stating that these were all consensual relationships.
Soon after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas as special prosecutor, Schneiderman engaged Kirshner. Since then, Kirshner has done exactly what she needs to be doing to serve her client, keeping him and the story out of the news during the investigation.
Meanwhile, I am sure Kirshner will be focusing on the nature of the accusations, the credibility of the four women and other relevant aspects of the case in building the strongest possible defense to avoid her client being charged. With so many sexual harassment and assault complaints coming to light in the past year, and those accusations being “tried” in the media, it is more important than ever that defense attorneys demand a level of proof required by our court system and not the court of public opinion.