Jacob Stein was the Washington lawyer who secured the only high-profile acquittal in the Watergate affair and who decades later helped obtain immunity for Monica Lewinsky following her affair with Bill Clinton.
Considered a dean of lawyers in DC, a litigator skilled in criminal as well as civil law who provided steady and savvy counsel to his clients, Stein, who has died aged 94, brought an old-world elegance to the bar in America.
His sartorial tastes ran to two-tone shoes, double-breasted suits and bow ties, and earned him comparisons to the Great Gatsby.
His windowless office teemed with books – not only legal texts but also the works of 18th- and 19th-century literature into which he retreated during his afternoon “siestas”, when he took no phone calls.
John Sirica, the federal judge who presided over the trials stemming from the Watergate burglary and cover-up that drove President Richard Nixon from office, once described Stein as “one of the finest attorneys in Washington”.
Stein represented Kenneth Parkinson, a lawyer for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (Creep) who was tried in 1974 alongside high-ranking Nixon aides HR “Bob” Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell and Robert Mardian. Only Parkinson, who was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, was acquitted.
During the trial, Stein presented Parkinson as an unwitting pawn of White House and campaign officials. Courtroom spectators noted that Stein physically separated his client from the other defendants and himself from their attorneys, as if to demonstrate Parkinson’s distance from their unlawful doings. In his closing argument, Stein, on melodramatic form, asked the jury to consider “what is good character worth?”
Should it be “cynically tossed out in favour of the testimony of confessed perjurers?” he said. “Doesn’t a lifetime where you built it up grain by grain weigh against that?”