Rusnak attorney is no stranger to high-profile cases

David B. Irwin involved in Lewis, Tripp trials

February 08, 2002|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

The easygoing Baltimore lawyer representing the man in the center of the Allfirst financial debacle is no stranger to high-profile figures attracting worldwide attention - from the limousine driver in the murder case that embroiled Ravens star Ray Lewis to Linda Tripp and her secret recordings that helped impeach President Bill Clinton.

But unlike many of his clients, David B. Irwin, 54, a 1966 Gilman School graduate who rose quietly but steadily to a reputation as one of the Baltimore area's top criminal lawyers, has never acquired a flamboyant image. A partner in the firm of Irwin, Green, Dexter and Murtha, he prefers to work in the quieter environs of Towson, where he can grab an occasional Old Bay cone at Moxley's Ice Cream Parlor.

"Baltimore's a very small town, and it's important not to make a lot of enemies here," Irwin says when asked about building his reputation. "I've fought hard to keep on the good side of people. You can't underestimate that."

Not that Irwin, who is 6-foot-4 and a former star athlete in football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, doesn't have a rabid side when it comes to work and competition. Other lawyers describe him as highly energetic, a great lover of the law and an occasionally fanatical softball player. "That's largely true, I guess, but the difference is that I take all the other players out after the games and buy them all beer," Irwin says. "I don't burn my bridges."

Irwin's latest case is that of John M. Rusnak, the 37-year-old currency trader who made international headlines this week when Baltimore-based Allfirst Financial Inc. labeled him a "rogue" trader who lost $750 million in bad bets in the foreign market.

Irwin is being assisted by a longtime friend, Bruce Lamdin, a Cockeysville lawyer who specializes in drugs and drunken driving cases. Lamdin, who describes his career as a lawyer as "your basic sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" cases, is a 1972 graduate of the University of Maryland Law School.

The Rusnak case is intricate, financially complicated and attracting the attention of federal law enforcement - all factors that point to Irwin being the man for the job, says Greg Bernstein, another longtime Baltimore lawyer and a former federal prosecutor.

Irwin, a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Maryland Law School, worked for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore from 1980 to 1985. He also was a prosecutor in the city and Baltimore County.

"Dave knows all the nooks and crannies of the federal system," Bernstein said. "His best talent is his ability to quickly analyze and weigh a situation and interpret what the best result will be. He's not the kind of person who will shoot off a cannon if a softer touch will do. Most people will tell you that they like Dave because he doesn't come in like gangbusters and alienate people."

Irwin's most high-profile defendant was Linda Tripp, whose secret recordings of White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky helped lead to the impeachment of Clinton. Tripp was indicted on two counts of violating Maryland's wiretapping statute stemming from a tape recording of a Dec. 22, 1997, conversation with Lewinsky.

Prosecutors dropped the charges after Irwin and one of his law partners, Joseph Murtha, argued vehemently that the state's key witness, Lewinsky, was "bathed in impermissible taint" and was out to get their client.

In 2000, Irwin represented Duane Fassett of Severn, the limousine driver who told jurors that Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis had ordered him to say nothing about a fight at an Atlanta bar that left two men dead. Fassett was not charged but was a key witness.

Irwin also represented Kenneth Peacock, a 35-year-old Parkton man who killed his wife, Sandra, after finding her in bed with another man. Peacock was given an 18-month work-release sentence that enraged domestic violence groups.

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