Beau Brindley has seen clients suffer through the agonizing, life-altering moment when a verdict is about to be read in a courtroom.
But the rising-star criminal defense attorney never knew what it felt like until Monday morning — when a judge cleared him of all counts in a rare loss for prosecutors after a two-week perjury and obstruction of justice trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
“It’s an incredible sensation,” said Brindley, 37. “This has given me so much greater perspective on what criminal defendants go through, and I will take that with me in every case from here on out.”
Brindley’s leg shook as U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber began reading his decision, and he leaned forward on the defense table as the judge began reviewing the critical aspects of the case. Leinenweber’s verdict finally became clear when the judge said, “The government has not proved any of the counts.”
Relief washed over Brindley’s face as he shook hands with his defense team and turned to a crowd of supporters in the gallery. Brindley lingered with them when the hearing ended, sharing hugs and shaking hands. The judge ultimately found Brindley and associate Michael Thompson not guilty of a combined 20 counts.
Prosecutors later declined to comment.
Brindley called the acquittal a victory for “all criminal defense attorneys.” Ed Genson, Thompson’s lawyer, said the case put “the whole defense bar” on trial. One of their colleagues later said the trial had text messages “going around like crazy” among defense attorneys at the federal courthouse.
The case was handled by federal prosecutors from Milwaukee, who accused Brindley and Thompson of coaching witnesses to lie under oath, as well as offering false information to the courts and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The alleged conspiracy spanned seven legal proceedings between September 2008 and June 2013.
Prosecutors even said Brindley gave witnesses scripted testimony to memorize. Brindley testified in his own defense, telling Leinenweber the only direction he gave his clients was “that they have to tell the absolute truth.” He said his firm developed question-and-answer forms as his associates prepared witnesses for trial. They would be reviewed for accuracy and revised.
Veteran defense attorney Michael Ettinger said it’s common for witnesses to change their answers during trial preparation. The same thing happens to the government’s witnesses, he said.
“These witnesses change their mind all the time,” Ettinger said.
Some of Brindley’s former clients also testified during his trial that they committed perjury in other cases at Brindley’s direction. But Leinenweber laid out the various deals for immunity and reduced prison sentences the government offered those witnesses in exchange for that testimony.
“These people have already lied at least once under oath,” Leinenweber said.
Larry Beaumont, another long-time defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said the case against Brindley was unwarranted. He and Ettinger agreed it could have had a chilling effect on the local defense bar.
“The government had witnesses that were, in essence, bought and paid for,” Beaumont said.
But Ettinger said Brindley scored a “huge” win in the end. It’s one that will let Brindley and Thompson continue to practice law in Chicago — even in the federal courthouse where they’ve already won the biggest case of their lives.