Mass legal defection hits Hazel & Thomas

March 02, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore office of the Virginia law firm of Hazel & Thomas defected yesterday as five partners led by star litigator Arnold Weiner set up their own firm.

Ten of the 12 lawyers Hazel & Thomas had in Baltimore joined Weiner, Astrachan, Gunst, Hillman and Allen, Mr. Weiner said. And while the partners downplayed reports that they are defecting because they were dissatisfied with what Hazel & Thomas paid them, they said they think the low overhead of their litigation-oriented boutique will mean higher profits.

"What you're beginning to find is that extremely talented litigators are now combining into litigation firms to be able to offer their services without a broader umbrella," Mr. Weiner said. He said litigation practice had suffered less from the recession than other areas of big firms such as corporate law.

James Astrachan, a partner in the new firm, made clear that the firm will be held together by Mr. Weiner, best known for his defense of former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Mr. Weiner eventually persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Mr. Mandel's corruption conviction.

"When people are in serious trouble, whether economic trouble or the loss of their freedom, he's the one who gets the phone call," said Mr. Astrachan, who said Mr. Weiner brings in 50 percent of the office's cases. "That's just the way it is in this town."

But Mr. Weiner's tactics have sometimes drawn critics, especially in his successful 1991 defense of Anne Arundel County real estate broker Gary Hart against rape charges.

Prosecutors and rape counselors said they had never seen any woman bringing rape charges subjected to such scrutiny.

"You represent the community of 1991," Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II told jurors during his closing arguments. "If you allow this kind of defense, I won't bother any more. . . . We forgot who is on trial."

The new firm will stay in the old Hazel & Thomas offices in the Bank of Baltimore building. The two lawyers who will not remain were associates "we didn't take with us," Mr. Weiner said.

They said their departure from Hazel & Thomas was amicable.

Senior Hazel & Thomas partners did not return phone calls yesterday.

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