Some stories are just too interesting not to write. I was preparing this story on Richard Scrushy's lead attorney in Montgomery, Art Leach, when the verdict came down against his client in the government corruption case in Montgomery.
Although the initial case did not go in his client's favor, Mr. Leach believes strongly he'll be victorious in the end.
Nonetheless, Art Leach, the man who irritated prosecutors with his refusal to stipulate to anything during the trial; "I just don't stipulate," says Leach; this son of Long Island is an interesting character. Ask him how he sees himself and he uses one word "patriot."
As one who is skeptical of those who engage in flag and/or Bible waving and who believes English writer Samuel Johnson was correct when he opined, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," my first instinct was to believe Leach's self-proclaimed patriotic fervor was a bit over the top.
The U.S. flag lapel pin he purchased right after 9/11 and wears every day on his suit is something he really does not leave home without. If he does, he's been known to have someone go and get it and bring it to him.
Having engaged in plenty of conversation with Mr. Leach, it's easy to sense the passion in his voice when he talks about public service. Skeptic I was, I'm convinced now it's part of who he is. It's in his gut, in the fabric of his being.
Leach comes by a belief in public service, in part, through examples set by members of his own, strong family. He was born in Long Island, New York in 1955. Both his mother's parents were Irish and on his father's side, the family is mostly English and some Bulgarian.
His mom, Marjorie, was a model for "Seventeen" magazine when she met his dad, Arthur Leach Jr. The couple recently celebrated their 55th anniversary. Attorney Leach flew up to New York the weekend before the Montgomery verdict to surprise his parents with a party celebrating the occasion. Leach says the party came as "a complete surprise" to his parents but the "party was wonderful. Dad cried and mom stood in silence."
Marjorie continued her career as a model even after his sister was born, but Art Leach ended his mother's career. When he was born she decided to stay home and be a homemaker. He has two younger brothers as well as his older sister.
His dad joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17. He signed up just in time for the planned invasion of Japan in World War II. As a private, Leach's father was scheduled to hit the beaches of Japan when Truman dropped the bomb and saved his dad's life, along with probably a quarter of a million other men.
Leach says he is also enormously proud of his uncle, Kenny Sullivan, who served with the Marines in South Vietnam.
After the war, "like a lot of men," says Leach, his dad "went to college on the G.I. Bill and eventually went to work for Grumman Aerospace."
The lawyer says he spent a lot of his childhood "looking at aircraft and traveling to air shows." He got to hang around planes and flyers like the Navy's Blue Angels. "Marine Corps & Navy all the way," says the man who "would just as soon fly as anything else." He loves flying "upside down" and thinks barrel rolls are a "load of fun." Leach says a private pilot's license is something he'd like to pursue and is something that would make his life easier, but "I just don't have the time to do it."
Leach's father held several jobs at Grumman including that of Director of Communications. He was responsible for all satellite and telephone communications and worked on the Apollo LEM project. Leach says when Grumman was sold, the company offered his dad an early out, about three years before his scheduled retirement and his dad took it. "I didn't think he'd do well in retirement, but he's done great. He's really enjoying himself."
There is also a long law enforcement history in the family. His grandfather, Francis Sullivan, known as "Sully" or "Chief" was a law enforcement officer for 37 years and his uncle, Brian F. Sullivan, also known as "Sully" was one for 40 years, just retiring two years ago. His youngest brother, Wes Leach, has been a cop for 11 years.
And Leach would never want to forget a very special law enforcement connection in his life - his wife Raphael, who is a retired Treasury Department special agent. Leach is extremely proud of his wife's service. "She was among the five best agents I ever worked with...She's incredibly modest about it. I could tell you stories of things she did, just investigative stuff, efforts she made that made a huge difference in cases."
I asked Leach where the patriotic fervor came from and he says it stems directly from the death of John F. Kennedy. "I was in the second grade when Kennedy was killed; I was deeply affected by his death."
He says he still keeps a picture of Kennedy. The picture shows Kennedy sitting at his desk with his arms folded in front of him. Leach believes it may have been one of Kennedy's presidential portraits. At the bottom left hand side of the picture is the famous quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
"I was drawn toward public service, just trying to give something back because of all the blessings I've been given," says the defense lawyer who spent 21 years prosecuting alleged criminals instead of defending them.
College and Deciding What to Do
So how did this Long Island native, who now bristles when people call him a "transplanted Yankee," find his way to Georgia, where he has lived and worked since 1978?
Leach says it started with his experience at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. At the time, Leach recalls, there were around 30,000 students at the school. He says in his biology class "there were around 2,000 students. It was large and impersonal." Leach says, "This was not the way I wanted to continue my education."
It was at Stony Brook however that Leach started really examining what he wanted to do with his life. As a political science major, he loved studying the presidents. Leach says he looked at the most famous personalities in history and many were lawyers. "I studied further and I just figured that's where I needed to go," remembers Leach.
His list of favorite presidents includes Lincoln and Grant -"He was a genuine person." He says FDR has to be on any list and he includes Reagan "only because I got hired under him and saw him at the White House." He says Washington, of course, was the greatest.
Leach's son, Artie, shares his father's love of the presidents and presidential anecdotes. The attorney says Artie's favorite story is one often told by President Reagan about an optimistic boy and a pessimistic boy. Leach tells it something like this:
"One day a scientist decided to run a test on the two boys. He took the pessimistic boy to a room full of new toys, telling him that they were all his. He immediately began to cry saying that one day they would all break. He then took the optimistic boy to an old barn which contained a huge pile of fresh steaming horse manure. The boy was immediately excited, grabbed a shovel and began digging in the manure. The stunned scientist asked the boy what he was doing. The boy immediately responded that with all this horse manure there has to be a pony in here somewhere.
That boy is my son Artie. "
One of Leach's favorite personalities is Alexander Hamilton, who was an aide to George Washington and the first Secretary of the Treasury and the man basically responsible for the establishment of the country's entire financial system.
Leach says George Washington's success was due in large part to Alexander Hamilton. He says, "If it wasn't for a marital indiscretion, the country's first political sexual scandal, he (Hamilton) would have been president." Since Hamilton was one of the historical figures he likes, I asked Leach if he did the dueling thing. He says with a hearty laugh, "No, that didn't work out too well; did it?"
So after graduation and finishing his summer job as a life guard on the North Shore of Long Island, a job he held for summers all the way through high school and college, the would be attorney took the opportunity to take a year off as he went looking for a law school.
He says he packed his things in September 1977 and first headed north toward Boston. Nothing he saw impressed him that much and he soon decided to head south. He had an interest in the South in general. He says the climate was one of the things that attracted him to this part of the country and during that time Leach says, "It was clear large numbers of people were moving to the South."
He says you'd have to have lived in New York to understand his other reasons. "I always knew I did not want to practice law in New York state...the commute was two hours in each direction." Leach says he wanted someplace smaller and with a reasonable commute.
Georgia Here I Come
The future law student says,"I liked Richmond a lot, but as I traveled more and more I really liked Georgia...It wasn't a hard decision."
And what do you think the young man drove on his journey to Georgia? "A 1978 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon, a battleship. My father's secretary sold it to me...I could pack everything in the old car. It was a standard shift with the toughest clutch you've ever seen in your life. If you weighed under 150 pounds, you couldn't get it to the floor!" Leach says, as he laughs, he hadn't thought about that car in years.
By the time he got to Georgia, the northern boy says he had seen around 20 schools and knew what he liked and what he didn't. He says he didn't bother to visit the University of Georgia because at the time UGA's preference for Georgia residents made it unlikely he would be able to get into law school there.
He tells me he didn't like the location of Emory or the school's library, among other things. He says the school "didn't have the right feel to it." So the aspiring law student continued his search and headed further south to Macon and Mercer University.
Mercer and the Law School Interview
Leach says as soon as he arrived on campus at Mercer University it was "about like perfection, a classic college campus."
He says at that point he went to the admission's office and picked up an application. He said he had about 10 applications already in his possession from his travels.
Once in the admission's office he says a "real nice lady" helped provide him with information and made him feel at home. While he was talking to her, a gentleman came in and joined in the conversation. Leach says the man then asked him into an office and he discovered the man he was carrying on a conversation with was the dean of the law school.
And what does a hopeful, aspiring law student wear to a law school interview? Leach laughs and then remarks, "I was in tennis shorts and a tennis shirt." He says the dean simply asked him if he was going to apply to the law school and he told the man "yes." At the conclusion of their time together the dean told the young Mr. Leach, "We will treat this as your interview."
The dean also told Leach "by the way, we're moving into a brand new building." The law school head told Leach to go take a look at the new facility and Leach says he traveled a mile and a half down College Street to see the new facility. His interviewer told the prospective student to look for a "large steeple."
The political science major and student of history says, "You couldn't write it in a story book any better. I said to myself, ‘I recognize this building.' It was an exact replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, complete with 13 columns. Now that's what I'm talking about." He says there hadn't even been a class in the building yet.
Leach says he finally settled on sending applications to 18 schools. He got admitted to about half of the schools, but settled on Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law. Within 30 days of his application they let him know he was in and he "immediately sent the deposit." He says he'd walked on the Harvard University campus but Mercer "blew every school away." Leach says he was "treated very well" and the Walter F. George School of Law was a "wonderful law school." The young man had found a place to call home as he learned his craft.
Headed to Tifton, Becoming a Domesticated Southerner
Leach says Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law helped him figure out what he was good at and he knew he wanted to be involved in trial work. He says he made many friends at the school, including one who would become an assistant district attorney and with whom Leach was offered a chance to work following graduation. There was only one problem - the D.A.'s office in Hinesville told him he would have to try misdemeanors for a year.
Meanwhile the district attorney in the rural community of Tifton, Georgia was looking for someone also. Leach says he told Tony Pittman about the offer he had in Hinesville and the fact they only wanted him to handle misdemeanors. Pittman told Leach with the small staff in the Tifton D.A.'s office, the new attorney would have to "try everything." That answer suited Mr. Leach better and following graduation he again got in his car and headed off to rural Tifton. "There's no more rural a place," remembers Leach.
The year was 1981 and the eager young attorney says he received a "complete education" in Tifton and learned so much as an assistant district attorney. "All of my mentors were very experienced police officers, very ethical. They did everything right."
It was in Tifton the Yankee went through a "domesticated Southerner" ceremony. "I became an official Southerner in 1982," Leach says proudly.
Leach says a bunch of cops from Tifton, detectives from the county and the city, who were "basically my family while I was in Tifton" decided one evening that it was time he became a domesticated Southerner. "There's not a lot to do in Tifton. It wasn't an initiation ceremony like into the Mafia or anything. It was just an understanding that I was now one of them, a Southerner, and that was going to be the last word on it."
There was only one person that kept kidding Leach constantly about being a Yankee, "It was the Sheriff of Worth County. He was an older gentleman, but I worked well with him."
He worked in Tifton for two years and five months and during that time Leach came to the attention of a young U.S. attorney about 5-7 years older than himself, Joe Whitley.
Savannah, Tax Cases and a Wife
Leach says he "jumped at the chance" when Whitley asked if he wanted to be an assistant U.S. attorney. This time he headed to work in Savannah where he started work in September of 1983. He would stay in Savannah until 1992 and he would meet someone there who still plays a major role in his life.
Art Leach is a strange bird. He likes complicated things, particularly when it comes to cases. "I love anything complicated, complex - tax cases, fraud, drug cases."
Because of his love for tax cases and the "fact no one else wanted to do them. I got all the tax cases for five years in the Southern District of Georgia," says Leach. This fascination with the complex led to his meeting his future wife, Raphael. When they first made acquaintance he was dating someone else and she was a new agent for the Treasury Department out of college.
"She brought me some cases," recalls Leach. "This first batch of cases all pleaded guilty, so we did not spend a great deal of time together." He says his future wife "investigated a new batch of cases and I did not see much of her for 18 months." Eventually, she brought him more cases and "it seems the second batch all went to trial and we received convictions on all - but only after hours of hard work." They "spent a lot of time" working on these cases together and "it was during this time frame that we began to date."
"I knew right from the start that she was someone who was very special, like Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life. She would tell you as well that she knew almost immediately that she and I were to be married."
After all the time spent together the two were finally married in 1989. They now have two children - Jessica, 15, and Artie, the optimist, age 12.
As he tells me about his children, Leach's voice fills with emotion. "I miss them desperately," he told me just days before the verdict in Montgomery.
Jessica Watches Her Dad Handle the Press
Jessica had recently been in Montgomery to spend time with her dad. He says Jessica was supposed to stay for a week, but decided she wanted to stay for another week. "I'm surprised she stayed. That was about all she could stand." The proud father says he was waking her up too early and having to make his runs back and forth to the courthouse. "A kid can only watch so much TV."
Leaving Savannah, the Gold Club, and the Marshals Come to Live In
Leach was detailed out of Savannah to Washington, D.C. for all of 1992 to serve as the Assistant Director for Policy and Operations in the Executive Office of Asset Forfeiture and in January 1993 he became an assistant U.S. Attorney in Atlanta where he would become Chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force. "There weren't a lot of people wanting the job," says Leach.
The most famous case he prosecuted in Atlanta was the Gold Club case which involved a hot strip club, famous athletes, and ties between the club owner and the New York-based Gambino crime family. In the end, the club's owner, Steve Kaplan, agreed to cough up $5 million, pay restitution for credit card fraud that was occurring at the club, turn over the club to the Feds, and serve up to three years in prison as he pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering. Kaplan was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
However, one of the most trying times of Art Leach's life had nothing to do with the Gold Club case. Leach takes on a different tone of voice when he talks about these events. Leach calls the events "traumatic. You've got people wanting to hurt you and hurt your family."
It seems there was a violent Vietnamese gang that he prosecuted that put together a plot to "have me killed." Leach says the plot was hatched at a meeting in a prison cafeteria and was overheard by an inmate cooperating on a different case. He says he found out about the threat at a court hearing.
"We were in the middle of a hearing when defense attorney Sandy Callahan, now a prosecutor in Birmingham, came into the courtroom...Sandy shows up and wants to see the judge. The two retired to chambers, five minutes later the judge calls me in and tells me about the threat. The plot was they were going to do a home invasion. The U.S. Marshal's Service discovered the gang had actually made an effort to get into our home."
This led to the U.S. Marshals becoming a part of the Leach family. He says it was very different having the marshals follow him around and eventually live with him and his family.
The former prosecutor says at one point the neighbors began to get a little concerned about who they had living next door. He says as a routine his protectors would "pick me up in a Crown Victoria, a basic go to work car." However, one day they brought a regular U.S. Marshal's car, complete with a caged in back seat, "so the neighbors see me going out in a cage." Leach says his neighbors told him they were getting a little worried about him.
Of the marshals, Leach says, "They tried to stay out of the way. They were absolutely wonderful." He says the detail would scale up and scale down "depending on the level of the threat." Eventually, there would be no one there during the course of the evening. Since he was working in Gwinett County the county folks were around a lot too. Plus, at the time, his wife was an agent as well. He says the trial lasted four months and the security was around for one to two of those months. In the end all 30 of the individuals indicted in the Vietnamese gang case were either convicted at trial or pleaded guilty.
Leach's daughter Jessica was about seven at the time all of this was going on. When she was about 12, Leach went to give a talk at his daughter's school, to kids older than Jessica, about persistence and hanging in there to get their education and his experience as a prosecutor.
He was asked by a student whether or not he had ever been threatened and he told the story about the marshals living at the house. The older kids thought it was cool and one later asked Jessica to tell about when the marshals came to live at the house.
Jessica couldn't remember. She couldn't differentiate, according to her dad, between the guys that were always coming over to the house regularly and the marshals. Leach says he asked his daughter, "Remember all the guys with the holsters?" "She didn't know they were U.S. marshals."
"That's all very cool," Leach remembers his daughter saying. Leach says it just so happens the marshals were at the house on Thanksgiving so the Leach's prepared the turkey in order to have it ready for shift change. When the first shift of marshals went off duty, there were about three on that shift, they sat down at the table to partake of the Thanksgiving meal. Then the next shift came in to have their holiday meal with the family.
His Passion: Working for the DOJ
Leach says he's been "extremely fortunate" in his life. He loved the work he did with the Department of Justice. He loved prosecuting cases "and if they could have paid me. I would have stayed forever." He says he may not have been the best prosecutor in the world but he was good at it and he loved the work. Besides Notre Dame Professor Robert Blakey, Art Leach is one of the few people in the world who loves RICO cases. "I love ‘em ," says Leach.
The former prosecutor says, "I would go back to DOJ in a heartbeat." However, he says, "There are a whole variety of considerations."
He says it was "not easy, there were a lot of dark times as an assistant D.A. and assistant U.S. attorney. At times I wanted to throw up my hands and walk away. But it's important; it's good work and I'm good at it."
"But I don't know that I'll ever get the chance to go back. I wouldn't go back as an assistant U.S. attorney; it would have to be a U.S. attorney's slot."
"I would welcome the opportunity to go back. I don't think I'm in with the right people to get that door open."
Private Practice and Richard Scrushy
After leaving the Department of Justice, Leach worked with the law firm Boone & Stone in Buckhead for 18 months and then became a sole practitioner in 2003.
His first meeting with Richard Scrushy was on Halloween 2003. After his first meeting he made it home in time for trick or treating. "It was close, but I made it." Asked who had more fun - him or the children, Leach replied, "I had more fun with the neighbors."
Leach says he went through three phases to get his job with Scrushy. He says initially the Scrushy team was looking for an asset forfeiture specialist, something he had plenty of experience dealing with.
He says phase one was a "mass gaggle" of lawyers. From there the field thinned out and finally at the third meeting, "Richard came in unannounced. I'd never seen him, knew nothing about him, just new he was important...He asked a million questions. Donald Watkins was also there."
Leach says they talked about the potentialities of the case, asset forfeiture and the requirements of the case. He says he outlined his plan and it was pretty close to what they did in the case.
As for his relationship with Richard Scrushy, Leach says it's based on "frankness and honesty. There are a lot of times we have heated discussions over issues. We have come to an understanding. I don't shade it; I don't varnish it. We'll argue about them, sometimes to the point the rafters are shaking. We have a professional friendship, very close. No matter how much we disagree, it's my job to tell him what I think. A lot of people can't deal with that. I have no problem with that. A lot of lawyers won't tell clients the straight story. In my heart I know what I'm paid to do, no matter how difficult."
One can only guess the trail ahead may be difficult for this attorney and his client. He likes complex challenges and according to most he faces an uphill climb to keep his client out of prison. Nonetheless, Art Leach knows how to pick himself up, dust himself off and get back in the saddle. Don't count him out of the rodeo just yet.
Reported by: Helen Hammons
Italics indicate corrections to original story