A Most Taxing Victory Is Attorney's Most Important

August 04, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Lester Jones has never been known to shy away from controversy or limelight.

No defense lawyer in Harford has handled more high-profile cases over the past two decades than Jones, a silver-haired showmanwho has made headlines representing accused killers, drunken driversand drug dealers. One of his cases established the now well-known "castle doctrine."

The 58-year-old Hydes resident prides himself on being "a fighter," and last week he won the biggest battle of his life when he beat -- at least for now -- charges that he evaded taxes and spent the money on on classic cars, vacation homes and furnishings.

"It was hell," Jones said of the trial. "But if anything is put on my tombstone it will say I was a hell of a fighter."

The former prosecutor and state delegate turned defense lawyer stood trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on two counts of tax evasion and two counts of false reporting on amended tax returns.

Tuesday, after four days of deliberations, the jury said it could not reach a verdict.

Prosecutors said after the deadlock they will seek a re-trial.

With the trial behind him, Jones is jetting off to southern California this weekend,where he and his wife, Shirley, will stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel near Laguna Beach. While he'll visit relatives in Beverly Hills, Jones said his priority will be surfing.

"I enjoy challenges," said Jones, who says he's been surfing 10 years.

Jones said the surfing trip is much needed after months of balancing his own docket of cases and helping his attorneys prepare a defense on the tax evasion charges.

Federal prosecutors contended in the trial, which lasted nearlythree weeks, that Jones skimmed cash from legal fees and failed to report more than $284,000 in taxable income in the mid-1980s.

But the defense, led by Washington D.C. attorney Stephen Sachs, during thetrial blamed Jones' tax preparer for under-reporting their client's income. Sachs, a former Maryland Attorney General who once ran for governor, didn't come cheap. Jones estimates his defense -- which included two law firms and an accountant -- cost him nearly $750,000.

The prosecution presented 42 witnesses during more than two weeks of testimony. Jones did not testify, and the defense rested after 20 minutes of testimony.

"I think that what satisfied me the most was that the jury considered the issues and not the person," Jones said. "Ifthey looked at the case and not the individual, then a good result would be attained.

"It renews your faith in the legal system," saidJones, an attorney for 31 years.

The lawyer said he found it difficult for him to play the role of a defendant, saying he wanted to stand in objection at several times during proceedings.

"I was dubbed the fifth wheel in this proceeding," Jones said. "I could do nothing but sit. That's very frightful."

Jones said he's not worried about a re-trial; he's confidant a second trial would end without a conviction.

He insists the trial did not hurt his law practice. In fact, he said, he's busier than ever, pointing to a parking lot outside his Bel Air office filled with the cars of employees and clients.

And he's still taking high-profile cases. He's representing Jerry Scarborough, the 1989 state police Trooper of the Year fired last springfor insubordination. Scarborough has filed a civil suit in Harford Circuit Court to get his job back.

While Jones says the trial didn't hurt business, he does resent the stigma the five-year federal investigation put on his wife and two daughters, Karen and Patricia.

"I felt they were being punished for something they had nothing to do with and had no control over," he said.


Lester Jones is knownby nearly everyone in Harford's legal community, from judges to court clerks.

As an attorney, Jones is best known for establishing the"castle doctrine," a defense stating that a man's home is his castleand he's legally permitted to use force to protect it.

In the 1982 case, Jones defended Forest Hill resident Claire L. Keyes, charged with shooting a teen-age relative he mistook as a burglar. Keyes won acquittal and Jones shined in a media spotlight.

But Jones has been on the losing side, too. He represented Boris Prymerman, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for a shooting during a VFW dance in Perryman.

Jones also defended Carl D. Cates, a North Carolina truck driver convicted in July 1987 of slamming his rig into a parked police cruiser and killing two state police troopers on Interstate 95.

While his court cases have brought Jones notoriety, he's also known for his flamboyant lifestyle.

A tall, slender man with a 100-acre estate near Hydes in Baltimore County, he has a second home in Ocean City and a third in Palm Beach, Fla. He has a fleet of 18 classic cars and luxury sedans.

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