Las Vegas Lawyer Said to Be Fierce Warrior in Court

Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors and defense lawyers agree that Las Vegas lawyer Oscar B. Goodman, whom Mayor Roger Hedgecock apparently has selected to represent him in a second trial, is a master tactician and fierce courtroom warrior accustomed to winning.

"The guy (Hedgecock) has got the right lawyer," said Las Vegas lawyer Thomas Pitaro. "If anyone can go toe-to-toe with the government and make the other guy blink, it's Oscar."

Richard Wright, another Las Vegas lawyer, said that if Goodman will represent Hedgecock, it means that the mayor has decided not to negotiate a settlement.

"If he's getting in the case, that means Hedgecock won't negotiate. Oscar is a warrior. He'll fight all the way. He's not in a case to settle out of court; he's in it to win," Wright said.

Goodman, known affectionately as the "Big O" by other defense lawyers, has defended clients in sensational cases all over the country. In February, 1983, Goodman successfully defended Jamiel (Jimmy) Chagra, an El Paso, Tex., gambler and drug dealer charged with plotting the 1979 assassination of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. in San Antonio. Chagra was acquitted, but his brother, lawyer Joseph Chagra, who was accused of counseling Jimmy Chagra about the assassination, pleaded guilty to the plot.

Goodman also was the principal attorney in the tax evasion trial of U.S. District Court Judge Harry Claiborne, who in August was the first sitting federal judge to be convicted of a crime.

Goodman is not a stranger to San Diego legal circles. In 1979 he helped defend Chris Petti, a La Jolla resident frequently linked to organized crime figures by county and federal prosecutors, on an assault charge. Goodman also has served as attorney for Allen R. Glick, another La Jolla resident suspected of ties to organized crime, who owned four Las Vegas casinos that figured in a federal investigation of profit skimming by organized crime figures.

In May, 1981, Goodman's law firm filed Nevada incorporation papers on behalf of J. David Securities Inc., a J. David & Co. subsidiary established to sell stocks and bonds. His firm also leased to J. David Securities a 3,010-square-foot office suite in the same building as Goodman's law firm in Las Vegas.

"Oscar's primary skills lie the area of legal issues and written motions. He doesn't miss anything. The man is a worthy adversary who is widely respected," said Las Vegas Dist. Atty. Bob Miller. "His skills and abilities are evident by his success in a number of cases that he has defended."

Lamond Mills, the outgoing U.S. attorney in Las Vegas, agreed.

"He's extremely effective in the areas of motions and law and very aggressive. He will make the prosecutor aware of any flaws in his case. Nothing gets by him," Mills said.

During Hedgecock's first trial, which ended in a hung jury that had voted 11-1 for conviction, all of the motions the mayor's defense attorneys filed in pretrial hearings were denied.

San Diego lawyer Michael McCabe, a top-notch defense lawyer in his own right, said that like prosecutor Richard Huffman, Goodman "can make mountains out of molehills." Michael Pancer, Hedgecock's attorney at the first trial, complained that Huffman "can make something out of nothing."

"Goodman pays close attention to detail. He's somebody who can out-nitpick Huffman, if that's possible," McCabe said.

Goodman lives with his family in Las Vegas and is active there in a Jewish temple, Wright said.

"He exhibits the same concern for his clients that he shows for his family," Wright said. "He seems to take every case personally. Juries sense his care and concern for his client." But McCabe said that Goodman's aggressive style may not go over very well in laid-back San Diego.

"He may not play well in San Diego," McCabe said. "He is extremely vigorous to the point of getting people angry. A lot of this aggressive style will not do the mayor very good . . . . It's a delicate balancing act--to be aggressive and defend your client and still have the jury like you."

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