Wachtell Wins Reversal for Caddie in Deadly Bar Fight
How do potential pro bono clients get the attention of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz?
One way, it turns out, is to work as a caddie at Wachtell partner Marc Wolinsky's ultra-exclusive Hamptons golf club. That's how Wolinsky wound up representing Anthony Oddone, who was convicted of manslaughter stemming from a barroom brawl five years ago. On Thursday, the firm lived up to its winning reputation—and Wolinsky's client won a new chance to clear his name—when the New York Court of Appeals overturned Oddone's conviction and ordered a new trial.
Oddone and Wolinsky first crossed paths at The Bridge in Bridgehampton, N.Y., a course that reportedly costs close to $1 million to join. Wolinsky, a member of the club, said he heard from "mutual friend" about a fight involving Oddone that left another man dead and Oddone facing murder and manslaughter charges.
"He thought that Tony was getting a raw deal," Wolinsky said. "The more I looked into it, the more I agreed."
Wolinsky and attorney Barry Skovgaard offered to put up $1 million of their own money if the judge would grant bail for Oddone. (The judge didn't bite.) In addition, according to the New York Post, they helped to foot the bill for Oddone's trial counsel Sarita Kedia, who had previously represented such clients as John "Junior" Gotti and Alphonse Persico. Wolinsky also became an integral part of the legal team himself.
Oddone's lawyers maintain that the then-25-year-old was acting in self-defense in the August 2008 death of Andrew Reister, a Suffolk corrections office who was working as a bouncer at a Southampton microbrewery and restaurant.
A jury in Southampton disagreed in 2010, and convicted Oddone of first degree manslaughter. An intermediate appellate court affirmed in 2011 but shaved off five years from Oddone's 22-year sentence.
Wolinsky took the lead in Oddone's appeal to the state's highest court, which heard arguments from the Wachtell partner in November. Those arguments paid off on Thursday, when the court reversed the 2011 decision and ordered a new trial.
Thursday's ruling turned on the trial court's decision to prevent defense lawyers from refreshing the memory of a defense witness who testified that her exposure to the fatal confrontation might have lasted just "a minute or so." She had originally told investigators that what she saw lasted "maybe 6 to 10 seconds."
Associate Judge Robert Smith wrote for a unanimous seven-judge court that "it was simply unfair to let the jury hear the 'a minute or so' testimony—testimony damaging to the defense, from a defense witness's own lips—while allowing the defense to make no use at all of an earlier, much more favorable, answer to the same question."
"Everybody here is extremely extremely happy that we were able to win at the Court of Appeals … it was really a long haul to get there," Wolinsky said Thursday. "Had he been charged with criminally negligent homicide, he would have been out one-and-a-half years ago."
Wachtell has no formal pro bono program or committee, and it doesn't participate in The American Lawyer's Pro Bono Scorecard. The firm does tout its commitment to pro bono on its website, however, and Wolinsky said the firm's lawyers regularly handle criminal appeals and immigration cases pro bono.
We reached out to a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, which has been prosecuting the Oddone case, but didn't hear back by press time.