Low-Profile Defense Team Knows High-Profile Cases

Times Staff Writer

After he was accused of sexual assault, it didn’t take Laker star Kobe Bryant long to surround himself with a formidable defense team.

Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey, partners in the law firm Haddon, Morgan, Mueller, George, Mackey & Foreman, P.C., have a long history of handling high profile cases and getting charges either dismissed outright or dramatically reduced. In cases where clients have been found guilty, they have often been able to get sentences drastically cut.

Both attorneys began their careers in the Colorado public defender’s office, and though it’s unknown exactly when Bryant hired them, no one seemed surprised at the choice.

Haddon has built a sterling reputation on the way he’s tackled some of the biggest criminal cases in the last 20 years.

In June 1989 more than a 100 federal agents swept into the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near here and discovered widespread and egregious environmental contamination. Radioactive waste was being illegally dumped into rivers, fields and released into the atmosphere.


The public was outraged and it seemed the culprit, Rockwell International Corp., didn’t stand a chance in court.

Then Rockwell hired Haddon, who quickly assembled a legal team that reviewed more than a million documents.

“In a short time he went from massively behind, to even, and then massively ahead,” recalled Larry Pozner, an attorney who was part of the defense team. “Hal was the quickest mind at the table, the steadiest hand. It was about as invigorating an environment as a defense lawyer could have.”

A special grand jury secretly recommended indictments against eight employees and said there was a culture of criminal conduct at the plant. But Haddon picked apart the prosecution behind the scenes, arguing the men were low-level players and scapegoats. The U.S. attorney realized he couldn’t win based on the evidence and Rockwell settled the case by paying an $18.5-million fine and pleading guilty to 10 charges of illegal handling of radioactive material.

But no company officials were charged. Congressional hearings were held to see how a company that seemed so guilty could get off so lightly. The House subcommittee probing the matter blamed the U.S. Justice Department for failing to vigorously prosecute Rockwell.

For Haddon, it was standard procedure and one of the reasons his work is renown. It’s also why he and partner Mackey were sought out by Bryant’s representatives after a 19-year-old woman accused Bryant of sexually assaulting her on June 30, at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera near Vail.

Sources familiar with Bryant said that after police first confronted him with the allegations, it is likely that his first call was to his agent, Rob Pelinka. After that, said another notable Colorado defense attorney speaking for his peers, “it wouldn’t take much to find out who’s who.”

Haddon and Mackey win, say colleagues, because they leave no stone unturned.

“They will check every fact, interview every witness and comb every inch of the Cordillera,” Pozner said. “And they will overlook nothing.”

That, says legal experts, will be their strategy -- uncover every detail about the meeting between Bryant and his accuser the night of the incident down to the second. Then use information obtained by their own investigators about witnesses and the background of the accuser to develop their own theory of what happened in the room.

“They have an obligation as defense attorneys to keep their client out of jail,” said Ed Nugent, a Colorado attorney who has known Haddon and Mackey for 20 years. “I have no doubt they will use whatever information they find.”

So far they have said little publicly except that Eagle County Sheriff Joseph Hoy was too quick to get an arrest warrant, showing his bias against Bryant. After charges were filed, they sat calmly beside Bryant at a Staples Center news conference where he admitted infidelity but denied rape. Mackey said her client was innocent and the facts would soon bear that out.

“Criminal defense lawyers are prone to hyperbole and overstatement,” said Gerald Goldstein, former president of the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers who has worked with Haddon over the years. "[Haddon and Mackey] hit the nail on the head, and they earn the respect and trust of the judge and jurors. They will not try this case in the media.”

Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer and commentator, described them as “media-phobic.”

“Hal once took part in a media seminar with former President Clinton’s lawyer David Kendall,” she said. “He said it’s a Catch-22. If you talk to the media you are accused of spinning, and if you don’t, they think you are hiding something.”

Neither responded to interview requests for this story.

Michigan-born Haddon, 62, is a quiet man with a love of fly-fishing, legal theory and politics. He is married with no children though he has two basset hounds -- one named Atticus, after Atticus Finch the defense lawyer in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The other is named Scout.

Mackey, 47, from Harlingen, Texas, is married with two children. She is known for defending the high and mighty as well as the down and out while working in the public defender’s office.

Haddon graduated from Duke University Law School where he was editor-in-chief of Law Review. He represented John and Patsy Ramsey when their 6-year-old daughter JonBenet was found murdered in the Boulder family home in 1996. The parents were never officially suspects but refused to be interviewed by police for months while Haddon fended off a hostile press. The case remains unsolved.

He also defended Hunter S. Thompson in 1990 after the gonzo journalist was charged with sexual assault. A business entrepreneur and former adult-film producer named Gail Palmer-Slater, visiting Thompson at his home near Aspen, said he grabbed her breast and threw a drink at her. The district attorney said he couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and dropped the charges.

Haddon is also active in Democratic Party politics. He was campaign manager for former Colorado Senator Gary Hart’s failed 1988 presidential bid. Haddon also ran the former Democratic lawmaker’s senate campaigns.

Mackey earned her law degree from George Washington University and also edited Law Review. She served as a public defender in Eagle County where Bryant was arrested and later freed on $25,000 bail.

Mackey isn’t as well known as Haddon but has seen her share of high-profile cases.

She defended Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy in a 2001 domestic violence dispute involving his wife, a case that was later dropped when new evidence was found.

She also represented Jeane Newmaker in a highly publicized “rebirthing” case three years ago. Newmaker took her 10-year-old adoptive daughter, Candace, to Evergreen, Colo., for a “rebirthing session” in an attempt to bond with the girl. Pillows and weights were put on top of Candace to simulate childbirth but the girl suffocated and died. Mackey helped arrange a deal where Newmaker pleaded guilty to negligent child abuse and received 400 hours of community service and no jail time. She could have been imprisoned for up to 16 years.

This year, Mackey defended Robert Willis, a skier from Plymouth, England, who collided with and killed another skier in Breckenridge. In that incident, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, who filed the charges against Bryant, declined to prosecute the case because he couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pozner offered a window on Mackey’s style and tactics. He cited a case where a high-profile professional -- whom Pozner declined to name -- was accused of a rape Mackey was convinced he didn’t commit.

“Pam Mackey went to the prosecutors and demanded to hear the woman’s side of the story,” Pozner said. “She said if charges were filed the man’s career would be destroyed regardless of the justice of the case. The prosecutors refused, so she got a senior deputy D.A. who made them show her the evidence.”

Mackey then produced her own evidence and convinced them they couldn’t win. Formal charges were never filed. Said Pozner: “They didn’t bring a case and a career was saved. Great lawyering isn’t necessarily what is heard in court but what comes before court even begins.”

The success of their firm is evident in the sprawling, white brick mansion that houses their offices, not far from the state Capitol in Denver.

The office, called the Crawford Hill Mansion, was built in 1906 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has a swimming pool, billiards table and a basketball court.

There is a glass-enclosed soundproof room just inside the door that lawyers call the “cone of silence.” It serves as a secure place to meet with clients or plan strategy. Every year they throw a big party for fellow lawyers, defendants and friends. While straight-laced in the courtroom, both Haddon and Mackey are said to be lively and engaging when off the clock.

“They are charming and witty,” said attorney Goldstein. “They are a breath of fresh air.”