Fattah's new legal firm no stranger to high-profile cases

Posted: March 12, 2016

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's new lawyers come from a Center City firm with past ties to the congressman's family, considerable experience handling high-profile cases, and an apparent lack of concern over whether it gets paid any time soon.

A team of three attorneys from Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis L.L.P. will make its courtroom debut Friday at a hearing in which the lawyers hope to persuade a federal judge to toss Fattah's racketeering conspiracy charges.

Their attachment to the case comes amid a flap between the Philadelphia Democrat and his previous lawyers, who say they have not been fully paid and have pushed for the court's permission to drop the congressman as a client.

So why would a new firm take on a client with limited financial resources facing a complex corruption trial - especially one who has repeatedly stated he intends to put fund-raising for his reelection above paying his legal bills?

In a word, prestige, said L. George Parry, a veteran Philadelphia lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

"It's good advertising," he said. "Even though he has been accused of all of these crimes, he's still being backed by the local Democratic Party. People will think, 'These guys are representing a congressman. What a great thing.' "

Fattah's team at Schnader as well as his old lawyers - Kevin V. Mincey, Thomas O. Fitzpatrick, Riley H. Ross III, and Shabrei M. Parker - have declined to discuss the transition.

In court filings this week in which he renewed their request to leave the case, Mincey assured U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III that the new team would be ready for the start of Fattah's trial May 2. Earlier this year, Bartle denied a request from Mincey and his colleagues to withdraw from the case, fearing that a new legal team would delay the proceedings.

"Substitute counsel is familiar with the facts," Mincey wrote. "Additionally, Schnader has indicated that the threat of nonpayment is not an issue for them."

Fattah said last month that he was looking for a firm that would be willing to accept a deferred payment plan.

Schnader has history with the congressman's family. Fattah's daughter, Frances, worked for Schnader as a litigation associate out of Fordham Law School for four years before leaving the firm in 2006.

Fattah's son, Chaka "Chip" Jr., turned to Schnader accountants in 2005 to prepare tax returns for his fledgling consulting company 259 Strategies. Those returns later featured in the wide-ranging federal bank and tax fraud case that ended with Fattah Jr.'s being sentenced to five years in prison.

In his own case, the congressman is facing a potentially career-ending indictment that alleges he accepted bribes from a lobbyist and misused grant money, campaign contributions, and charitable donations under his control to pay personal debts and enrich members of his inner circle.

The trio of Schnader partners taking on Fattah's case are no strangers to headline-grabbing work:

Mark M. Lee heads the firm's white-collar defense and corporate investigations team.

Bruce P. Merenstein formerly led Schnader's pro bono committee and is representing Bill Cosby in his Superior Court appeal to have sexual assault charges he faces in Montgomery County thrown out.

Samuel W. Silver is also working for Cosby, representing the entertainer in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed against his accuser, Andrea Constand.

"We're getting ready," Lee said. "We look forward to vindicating the congressman at trial."

Fattah has maintained that he intends to pay his debts to his old and new lawyers.

But with four challengers to fend off in the April 26 Democratic primary, he has said, his must first focus on raising campaign cash.

jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-854-2608@jeremyrroebuck

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