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May 28th, 2003 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

Randy Richardson was a hotshot criminal- defense lawyer. Now he needs one.

     
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Take a look at the photo above.

It captures someone of confidence. A self-assuredness that approaches arrogance.

It's the kind of photo you could imagine being shot at a graduation party, or after a big promotion.

It certainly doesn't look like a guy who has just been booked on charges of menacing and choking his ex-girlfriend in front of their 4-year-old son.

It's easy to read too much into the mug shot of Randy Ray Richardson taken in November 2002, but the image is befitting of the young Portland lawyer who signs his legal briefs "R-Ray-R."

The expression doesn't surprise those who watched Richardson ride his charisma and cockiness to an impressive record of wins in the courtroom.

But today, his vaunted criminal-defense skills and trademark invulnerability are being put to the test.

Last month Richardson, 33, was accused of what lawyers say is the worst crime they can commit as an attorney: bribing a witness to lie on the stand.

It has been 15 years since Multnomah County's top prosecutor, District Attorney Mike Schrunk, has publicly aired allegations of witness-tampering against a fellow lawyer. Going after another member of the bar is always uncomfortable, but this felony investigation, as Schrunk puts it, is particularly "awkward."

That's because for five years Richardson not only worked for Schrunk but was, in some ways, treated like a son: nurtured, encouraged and, many say, indulged.

"They loved him," says Stefan Johnson, an African-American former Multnomah County prosecutor who now works for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles. "He was a very good schmoozer. He said the things they wanted to hear. They winked at his foibles. And part of it was because...I don't know how to say this. He was their black superstar."

Today, many Portland lawyers on both the prosecution and the defense side liken the rise and fall of Randy Richardson to that of disgraced African-American New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who made dozens of factual errors that were overlooked, many claim, because of his employer's desire to promote people of color.

Like Blair, Richardson is talented--not just by affirmative-action standards, but by anyone's. He, like Blair, was endowed with a public trust and was given every opportunity to succeed.

And, like Blair, he appears to have abused those opportunities.

Repeatedly.

Trials, in real life, bear little resemblance to what's seen on TV. Many lawyers work hard on courtroom skills, but few ever come close to the kind of delivery seen on Law & Order.

The majority of real-life lawyers forget names, lose their train of thought and sound as dopey as the rest of us.

Then there's Richardson.

He's known for his PowerPoint presentations to drill a point home, his fearsome expert witnesses who demolish his opponents' cases and his knack for trapping witnesses to dramatically expose their lies on the stand.

Most impressive, say courtroom watchers, is his rapport with jurors. Richardson has the rare skill of being able to almost immediately master the names of not just a 12-person jury, but an entire pool of 30 or more potential jurors.

Forget Law & Order, says prosecutor Kevin Demer: "He's better than what you see on TV."

"He's clearly in the upper echelon of Portland trial lawyers," says David Lesh, a Multnomah County prosecutor until 1998.

"I thought he was bright and capable," says Senior Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink, the man now overseeing the investigation into Richardson's alleged witness-tampering. "He had a real ability in the courtroom."

Last month, Richardson's rise came to a screeching halt in the fifth-floor courtroom of Judge Ellen Rosenblum, after a trial of Christopher Terell Lambert.

Richardson, who worked in the DA's office until three years ago, had been hired to defend the 20-year-old, who was charged with attempted murder. The former prosecutor ultimately lost. Even worse for him, on April 22, the date Lambert was to be sentenced, Frink, Richardson's former boss, asked that the defense lawyer be removed from the case "based on evidence received implicating...a criminal conspiracy...to tamper with evidence, witnesses, suborn perjury and bribe a witness in the criminal trial of Christopher Lambert."

The following week, Richardson resigned from the case, and a new lawyer was assigned to Lambert, who now will be sentenced in July.

Bribing a witness is "among the least defensible things that a lawyer can do in the practice of law," says Peter Jarvis, an ethics expert who defends lawyers for a living, "because it goes to the heart of a trial as an objective fact-finding process directed to finding the truth."

Richardson grew up among Portland's African-American elite, a social circle with a shared value of community service. His father, George Richardson Jr., is a longtime lobbyist and vice-president for the gas utility Northwest Natural who served on Vera Katz's mayoral transition committee in 1992 and gubernatorial candidate Jim Hill's kitchen cabinet a decade later. He chaired nonprofit housing and inner-city youth organizations, and he has served on the TriMet board since September 2001.

The younger Richardson was his father's favorite, and a bit "spoiled," says his half-sister, Stephanie Rae Richardson, who finds the present charges hard to believe. "I can't see him disappointing his father," she says. "He respects him too much."

Randy Richardson graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School in 1987, a skinny member of the track, cross-country and J.V. wrestling teams who, upon graduation, listed his career goal as "architectural drafting."

That fall, he entered Morehouse College, a prestigious, historically black, all-male school in Atlanta. He joined Alpha Phi Alpha, a fraternity steeped in African-American history whose past members include Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall and Paul Robeson.

In 1989, Richardson had his first brush with the law, when the Cobb County, Ga., district attorney considered charging Richardson and 10 other frat members with manslaughter. The occasion was a fraternity hazing ceremony featuring punches and slaps, during which a pledge named Joel Harris died of heart failure. Eventually, the prosecutor decided a preexisting congenital heart condition was at fault.

"I've never had anyone close to me die, let alone die in my arms," Richardson was quoted as telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That's a tragic experience I will have to endure forever. I just think it's terribly insulting people would question my grief for Joel considering what I've been through."

In January 1991, while in Portland on winter break, Richardson was caught shoplifting a $37 belt from Meier and Frank at Lloyd Center. Confronted by security guards, he attempted to karate-kick one in the chest--only to be subdued. "I am a college student and not working," Richardson later told security. "I should not have done it." He pleaded guilty to a violation--a ticket, essentially.

After graduating that year, he headed to Syracuse Law School, where in early 1994 he won a regional trial competition in which he went up against 58 of the best law students in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

"He had a very pleasing personality," says his trial coach, Travis Lewin, a former federal prosecutor, but Richardson also had an ego "that could get in the way."

In August 1994, after an internship, Richardson was hired by the district attorney's office.

John Bradley, Schrunk's recently retired second-in-command, says they weren't overly concerned by the shoplifting charge.

"Everybody has made mistakes in their life. Some of our best attorneys have," says Bradley. "The thing is, we expect that once they get hired they'll stop making those mistakes."

At first, the biggest impression Richardson made was with his talent. "He is as comfortable with a jury of six strangers as he is with six of his best friends," wrote Richardson's supervisor, Nancy Popkin, in an April 1995 evaluation.

Richardson also played on the office basketball team, though "he shot more than he played defense or passed," recalls ex-prosecutor Keith Meisenheimer, who is now a judge.

As time went on, his disdain for less glamorous duties extended off the court, as well. "He is very talented when it comes to the showy part of the job," says Johnson, his former co-worker. "But when it came down to doing the nuts and bolts, I thought he was quite lazy. He just wanted to talk on the phone and schmooze."

Indeed, in Richardson's six-month review, supervisor Fred Lenzser wrote that colleagues "view him as a prima donna who doesn't want to do the grunt work." Lenzser, a chief deputy district attorney, also noted that Richardson's courtroom practices had drawn complaints from Judge Henry Kantor, who accused Richardson of making improper comments about a defendant in court, and Judge Dorothy Baker, who reported that after she ruled against him in a case, Richardson replied, "Did you read it?"

In December 1994, defense lawyers accused Richardson of prosecutorial misconduct on two separate occasions, and both times judges ruled that the prodigy had screwed up.

In one instance, Judge Julie Frantz made an official finding that Richardson was "extremely negligent" in a case in which he told a jury how a police officer would testify, even though he should have known the cop was on vacation and could not make the trial.

In the other, Judge Michael Marcus found that Richardson had committed "reckless misconduct" by jotting down a note and, while the defense lawyer was making his closing arguments, moving it to where the defendant, sitting at an adjoining table, could see its message. "HE IS SCREWING YOU!" the prosecutor wrote in one-inch-high block letters. "BIG TIME!"

Richardson later denied that his note was intended for the defendant, but many considered it a breach of legal ethics rules that strictly forbid communicating with an opposing lawyer's client. Subsequently, Marcus expressed "grave concerns" over Richardson's behavior, according to a subsequent memo by Lenzser.

The incident has become such a staple of Portland's cocktail-fueled legal gossip chain that when asked about the episode, Christopher Larsen, a 12-year defense lawyer, broke out laughing. "That is one of my top 10 lawyer stories," Larsen said, "and I've got a lot of them."

Still, Larsen thinks many of the widespread complaints about Richardson stem less from ethics than from Richardson's swaggering demeanor. "He wasn't one of those who [wins and] says, 'Hey, great job,'" says Larsen. "He was more like, 'Yeah--I kicked your ass.'"

In his six-month evaluation, Richardson denied he had any professional problems. "The thought that I am unprofessional, unethical or otherwise reckless in my approach to criminal prosecution...in my humble opinion, defies common sense," Richardson wrote. "The untamed fighter in me wants to consider these types of allegations as acts of unprovoked war. However, the consummate professional in me knows that such retaliation would be unproductive in the end."

Many defense lawyers--as well as Richardson's own supervisors--felt his problems went beyond just ego. In fact, they felt that the rookie prosecutor's craving for combat and conquest overrode anything else.

In January 1995, Ed Jones, then head of Multnomah Defenders Inc., sent Schrunk a note regarding the two judicial rulings, saying, "In both these matters I find the behavior of Mr. Richardson...to raise some serious questions about ethics and training."

In April 1995, supervisor Popkin recommended keeping him on "a short leash." Four months later, in Richardson's first-year performance evaluation, supervisor Chuck French said the rookie had the potential to "become a virtually unstoppable force" but noted that Richardson's drive to win caused him to "needlessly push every issue to the thin edge of propriety."

"The result," French wrote, "has been the alienation of the entire defense bar and of many judges."

"The irony of this fact is that Randy has no need to do this to win his trials," the supervisor observed. "There are few lawyers of any level who can beat him in an even case."

Both ex-prosecutors and defense lawyers can cite a long list of prosecutors who either screwed up or did not fit in with the culture of Schrunk's shop. They have one thing in common: a rapid departure from the office.

"From what I've heard, I think that they gave [Richardson] a lot more leeway than they would have others," says Michael R. Washington, an African-American former Multnomah County prosecutor who now sits on the state parole board.

Even longtime middle-managers expressed frustration at the relative lack of accountability for Richardson, as well as the lack of improvement in his behavior.

On Sept. 7, 1997, drug-unit supervisor Mark McDonnell reported widespread complaints that at a time of budget-cutting and increased workload, "Randy commonly dodges his fair share of the work" and noted the "perception that Randy is judged by a different standard from other deputy district attorneys in the office."

Some defense lawyers claim the rise and fall of Randy Ray Richardson shows that in the culture of the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, winning is ultimately more important than ethics. "He is their Frankenstein monster," said one. "They created him, and now they are trying to destroy him."

"That's a pretty good analogy, " says Johnson, the ex-prosecutor. "No matter what he'd done, they still promoted him."

The man responsible for Richardson's conduct as a prosecutor enjoys an almost unparalleled place in Portland politics. The son of a popular Portland mayor, Mike Schrunk has been re-elected five times and has served as DA since 1981, longer than the combined tenure of the five members of the county commission.

Quick to laugh and popular with the public and press corps, the lifelong Democrat is considered liberal for a prosecutor and, in a town that has only two predominantly black law firms, has a record of success in recruiting a diverse team of prosecutors (see chart).

Schrunk concedes that race was a factor in how Richardson was treated, though he stresses it was not the sole factor.

"I've always felt strongly that in a district attorney's office you should be reflective of the community," he says. "There's no quota system, but I think ethnic diversity is something we always strive for."

Asked whether he gave special treatment to Richardson, Schrunk acknowledged that some prosecutors in his office have been "projects"--many of whom have gone on to great success.

As for Richardson: "You know, everyone has a kid brother. You love him, and you teach him baseball or you bring him along, and you help him with his homework, and he's kind of the favorite. And then the kid brother does something, and it's like, 'Oh no, he did what?'

"In a way there's a little bit of that in Randy. So likable, so talented you have so much hope, there's so much potential there--and it's like all of a sudden you slap your forehead and say, 'What? It cannot be.'"

Bradley, whom Richardson has described as his mentor, describes the young prosecutor as "a real charmer."

"I talked to Randy on a number of occasions," says Bradley. "I'd go in and say, 'Randy, you can't do this'; 'You're better than this'; 'Don't do that again.' And Randy, in his very charismatic way, would go, 'No, you've got it wrong, it won't happen again.'"

Both Schrunk and Bradley say they still thought Richardson's assets outweighed his liabilities in the fall of 1997, when they granted him a leave of absence to undertake naval training. "Sometimes people go off on leave and we say, 'Oh, we hope they don't come back,'" says Bradley. "I didn't get that sense with Randy."

In January 1998, Richardson was commissioned as a special warfare lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and in April he began the grueling seven-month Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals training on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. But he left the program later that year and returned to Portland after learning that his ex-girlfriend, Tawnya Paollili, was pregnant. His son was born May 30, 1998, at Oregon Health & Science University.

Upon Richardson's return to Portland, he asked for his old job back--and got it.

Richardson's second stint with the DA was even shakier than the first. In addition to complaints about job performance, his personal life got messier.

He and Paollili had a rocky relationship, which repeatedly involved police. In April 1999, Richardson showed up at Northeast Precinct and accused Paollili of slapping and scuffling with him while he was with another woman. Paollili, who had recently gone to work for the DA's office as an office assistant, told the officer that Randy had head-butted her.

Three months later, Richardson called 911 claiming that a neighbor had drawn a gun on him, which she denied. Questioned by an officer, Richardson admitted drawing his own gun first, as the neighbor's brother approached him yelling. The neighbor, however, told police Richardson had lied and was mad at her because she'd informed Paollili that Richardson was cheating on her--spending several hours at a time with other women during the day while Paollili was off at work at the district attorney's office.

Schrunk says he confronted Richardson about the incident and "chewed him out for having the gun on the front seat of his car." Bradley, too, talked to him and was convinced that the neighbor's brother posed a justifiable threat.

But eventually Richardson's personal life spilled over into his job in a manner that couldn't be charmed away.

The incident began with a civil small-claims action filed in March 2000 in the name of Kylyn Whitaker, a friend of Richardson's. Whitaker claimed that a woman named Contesa Diaz had duped her into investing $5,000 into an illegal pyramid scheme (see "The Sisterhood Scam," WW, Jan. 19, 2000).

That same month, Diaz called the Portland Police Bureau to complain that Portland Police Officer John Scruggs had served her with legal papers related to Whitaker's civil claim. Diaz's complaint was investigated because police officers are not supposed to get involved in civil cases.

Scruggs, who has also served as Mayor Katz's bodyguard, told the police investigator that it was Richardson who had asked him to serve the papers, telling him they were part of a criminal fraud case.

"He had me contact this person who he said was the subject of a fraud investigation," Scruggs told WW. "But as it turned out, that was a personal business deal that he was involved in. I felt totally violated that he had used me in that way."

Diaz also told investigators that she had never met Whitaker and did not owe her money. She suspected the claim was an effort by Richardson to get back $5,000 that she said he had given her to invest in the pyramid scheme.

The investigation soon cleared Scruggs and began to focus on Richardson.

According to reports obtained by WW under Oregon public-records law, Diaz told investigators that prior to Whitaker's civil claim being filed, Richardson had been demanding his $5,000 from her. On one occasion, she said, she noticed her purse had been stolen shortly after he left her house. She told police that someone subsequently forged a $4,500 check to Whitaker under her name. It bounced.

The bounced check, along with a note purportedly written by Diaz admitting that she owed Whitaker $4,500, was included in the small-claims action filed under Whitaker's name. Diaz said the handwriting was not hers.

Tamara Townsend, the lawyer handling Whitaker's small claim against Diaz, told police she had never actually spoken to Whitaker and had filed the claim, which Richardson had for the most part written, at Richardson's request because he didn't want his name on the case.

By this point, the investigation had turned criminal. Misusing a public position for personal gain is a crime called "official misconduct."

Diaz, an airline flight attendant, told WW it took eight months and several thousand dollars in lawyer fees to unravel what Richardson did to her. "He's an awful person," she says.

On May 26, 2000, Richardson resigned from the DA's office. Documents show he'd been given a choice: either resign from the district attorney's office, or the criminal investigation would continue. He was granted a period of unused paid vacation as well as unpaid leave to allow him to complete five years in the DA's service, qualifying him for retirement benefits.

Richardson set up his own office and billed himself as a criminal-defense attorney with special insight into how Schrunk's office worked.

His departure from the DA's office did not end his problems. In early 2002, the Oregon State Bar investigated him for possible "witness tampering" in a domestic-violence case. He denied the charges, and the case was dropped for lack of clear evidence.

On Nov. 19, 2002, Paollili called police, saying, according to the police report, that Richardson had shoved her around the bathroom, "grabbed her neck and held her against the bathroom wall." Richardson denied the allegations, and the case, which led to the mug shot on the cover, was not prosecuted.

In February, Richardson took on a more high-profile case, that of Christopher Lambert.

Lambert was accused of unleashing a volley of bullets near the Quest nightclub on the evening of July 28, 2002, that left three people wounded.

At first, things went Richardson's way. First, several of the prosecution's witnesses could not be located for trial. Meanwhile, Richardson presented two witnesses who testified that they were with Lambert on July 28, and they'd left with him a half-hour before the shooting.

One alibi witness, Jennifer Napolitano, provided compelling details, saying that prior to leaving the club with Lambert, she'd stood outside the club and chatted with a high-school friend she hadn't seen for years.

But that testimony was thrown into question when prosecutor Allison Rhodes located that friend and put her on the stand. The woman said she and Napolitano had been seeing each other regularly--but she was out of town on the night of the shooting and could not possibly have met Napolitano at the club.

The jury ultimately convicted Lambert, who was about to be sentenced when Frink jolted the courtroom with the allegations of witness-tampering.

Because the investigation is ongoing and Richardson declined to comment, few details are known. It's widely believed that Napolitano is cooperating with Schrunk's office and that prosecutors have offered Lambert a reduced sentence in exchange for turning on his attorney. On April 17, police executed a search warrant on Richardson's home and office.

To defend himself, Richardson retained the same lawyer who represented him in the Diaz matter, Ken Walker, as well as a new one, Bob Thuemmel, who says his client "has not violated any criminal law."

Schrunk says he has no choice but to investigate his former "project" aggressively.

"You guys would roast me alive--and you should--if we didn't pursue it to the natural consequences," he says. "The thing we have to sell is our credibility. We have to be squeaky-clean."

Schrunk takes issue with the notion that, albeit with the best of intentions, he helped spawn a legal "monster" who learned he could get away with bending the rules. He doesn't deny, however, that the recent events have led to some soul-searching.

He says his office is asking the same kind of questions that are being bandied about The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair fiasco: "What could we have done differently? What is our commitment to the community?

"Maybe there's a failure," Schrunk continues. "Maybe there was something that we could have done. Sure, there's always regret. I regret the fact that you and I are having this conversation. And I wish there was something we could have done differently."

Lauren Dake provided additional reporting for this article.

The COLOR of the LAW
(Minority lawyers working for the city, county and state)

Number who are... Total Lawyers Percent Minority Black Hispanic Asian Native American City Attorney's Office 25 8% 1 0 1 0 Multnomah County District Attorney 77 14% 3 3 5 0 Oregon Attorney General's Office 249 5% 2 3 7 1

Sources: Portland City Attorney's office, Multnomah County District Attorney's office, Oregon Attorney General's office. All info 2003.


In 1997, Randy Richardson, whose nickname is R3 or "R cubed," unsuccessfully ran for the Portland School Board under the motto, "The 3 R's of Education." Norm Frink contributed $75 to his campaign.









Richardson drives a 1994 Nissan Pathfinder with the license plate RRAYR, and has a 2002 Mercedes S430 registered to his law practice, with the license plate R3LAW.









Police have expanded the investigation of Richardson to look at others cases he has defended. Among those is an attempted- murder case in which Richardson obtained a not- guilty verdict for Eddie Lama Bynum Jr. after a key witness disappeared.









Richardson called Bynum as a witness in his representation of Christopher Lambert. The simultaneous representation of a defendant and a witness may constitute a violation of state bar ethics rules.









On May 11, 2000, police investigator Frank Romanaggi tried to question Richardson about why he requested police officer John Scruggs get involved in a civil dispute. According to the investigator's report, when Romanaggi arrived at the sixth- floor district attorney's office, Richardson ran away, prompting a chase down four flights of courthouse stairs.









Although Richardson lost the Lambert case, Metropolitan Public Defenders, the largest defense firm in town, ordered a transcript of a portion of his defense to use for training purposes.
 
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