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Famed trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who defended clients...

WASHINGTON -- Famed trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who defended clients ranging from Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during a career that spanned three decades, died of cancer Saturday. He was 68.

Williams, who also wielded much influence in the sports world as a longtime owner of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles, died at about 6:15 p.m. at Georgetown University Hospital, where he was admitted Wednesday, hospital spokeswoman Anne Klass said.

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Dana Fulham, 25, one of Williams's seven children, said her father suffered from cancer of the colon and underwent his first operation 12 years ago.

'He did well until Wednesday, when he took a turn for the worse,' Fulham said. 'We thought he would be more comfortable (at the hospital) at that time.

'He was the greatest father. Everybody would tell you that. He had a lot of courage,' she said.

Fulham, who now lives in Boston, said her mother and several of her brothers and sisters were with him at the hospital when he died.

Klass confirmed that Williams died of cancer.

A funeral mass was scheduled for Tuesday morning at St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington. A wake will be held Monday evening at Gawler's funeral home, also in Washington.

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Vincent Fuller, a partner at Williams' Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly, called Williams 'one of a kind -- a legend in his own day.'

'He's been fighting this disease,' Fuller said. He fought it as hard as he could.'

As famous as the fictional television attorney Perry Mason, Williams was a master of the courtroom who used charm and confidence to woo juries and wage legal war for his clients.

Adroit, brainy, handsome and industrious, Williams gained national success as a trial lawyer in his early 30s. Despite repeated bouts of cancer in later years, he remained a tireless advocate for the accused throughout his life.

His clients were as colorful and controversial as Williams himself, ranging from conservatives to communists, mobsters to madames.

The list included Hoffa, McCarthy, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Frank Costello, mogul of the underworld.

Although the public often associated him with the sometimes villainous folk he represented, Williams was a firm believer that any accused person is entitled to the best defense.

'The lawyer,' he wrote in the book 'One Man's Freedom,' 'is neither expected nor qualified to make a moral judgment on the person seeking his help.'

For Williams' clients, the best defense was often expensive. He commanded huge fees from those who could afford them, but often pointed out that his firm took on the causes of the penniless for free.

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He invested some of the proceeds of his labor in professional sports, buying an interest in the Washington Redskins football team in the early 1960s and later fulfilling a childhood dream by owning a major league baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles.

Because the NFL has a policy against owner involvement in two leagues, Williams sold his shares of the Redskins in 1979 to partner Jack Kent Cooke, under pressure from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.

'It's like a family member passing away,' said Orioles Coach and former Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks. 'He's been sick since he owned the ballclub. He had the will to live. He never gave in, he could have easily quit.'

The Orioles, who won their most recent of three world championships under Williams' ownership in 1983, have recently declined and began this season with 21 losses that set an American League record.

'He knew what was going on with the ballclub until the day he died,' Orioles pitching coach Herm Starrette said. 'I respected him for hanging tough like he did. He was a fighter and he expected the same from his ballclub.'

He also was the consummate Washington insider, friend of Republicans and Democrats alike. Williams was not invincible, but his batting average was high.

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He defended Joseph McCarthy, the virulent Wisconsin anti-communist, in a libel suit and tax case and became nationally famous in 1954 when he advised McCarthy in the Senate censure action against him. Although Williams lost the case, legal observers attributed it to McCarthy's interference outside the hearing room.

During the same period, Williams represented several Hollywood writers who had been targeted by the communist 'witchhunt,' including Sidney Buchman, Robert Rossen, Martin Berkeley and Max Benoff.

In 1956, Williams entered the tax evasion and denaturalization case of the gravel-voiced mob boss Frank Costello. His nine years of work on the matter culminated in a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that saved Costello from deportation to his native Italy.

Williams used every tactic he knew to win acquittal in 1957 for Hoffa on bribery charges when the government's case looked air-tight. Some of Williams' critics contended he won the case by bringing Joe Louis, the black boxer, into the courtroom to display his friendship with Hoffa before the 12 jurors, eight of whom were black.

In 1960, Williams obtained the dismissal of two counts in a three-count tax evasion indictment against New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. A hung jury was declared on the third count after jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal.

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Williams was sought after by the high and mighty whenever they found themselves in troubled waters.

In addition to Powell, other politicians who turned to Williams for legal aid were Rep. Ernest Bramblett, R-Calif., accused of receiving kickbacks from office employees; former CIA director Richard Helms; and judge and ex-Illinois governor Otto Kerner, indicted for bribery, tax evasion and perjury.

Williams won acquittal for former Treasury Secretary John Connally, who had been indicted by a Watergate grand jury on charges of bribery growing out of milk producers' contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign.

Other clients included Bernard Goldfine, whose $800,000 criminal income tax evasion case was the largest in U.S. history; Polly Adler, the notorious den mother for one of New York's most celebrated bordellos; New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Lt. Aldo Icardi, who was accused of perjury in a case stemming from the World War II death of another American officer.

One of his most bitter defeats came in the case of Robert G. Baker, the Democratic secretary of the Senate and Lyndon Johnson protege who was charged with fraud and tax evasion. After Baker was convicted, friends said perhaps Williams partied a bit too heartily and devoted too much of his time to the Redskins.

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Williams' own assessment of defeat was that it was inevitable.

'You become successful, the papers build a legend about you and you're tempted to believe it,' he mused. 'Now you're champ. Now you must never lose. The thought of any single failure becomes immense.'

'But you try to get some perspective. You have to. You've got to understand that a new guy will come along and he'll do it better. This is a young man's game, like baseball. You can't let yourself believe your own publicity. It's like a narcotic. You lose touch with reality. You think you're invincible.'

Despite his view of law as a young person's game, Williams continued to excel at it as his hair thinned and grayed.

In 1981, Williams negotiated a plea bargain in the case of Warner Communications chief executive Jay Emmett, charged with taking bribes of $70,000 and siphoning another $150,000 from a theater. He made 1987 headlines when he successfully won for The Washington Post an appeal of a libel verdict that had favored Mobil Oil Corp. President William Tavoulareas. Other clients in the 1980s included industrialist Victor Posner and junk bond guru Michael Milken.

Williams was born in Hartford, Conn., on May 31, 1920, the son of a department store floorwalker whose dismissal during the Depression led Williams to forever identify with society's underdogs.

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To help family finances, Williams worked after school at a gas station. He did not neglect his studies, however, and his mother recalled he was 'a precocious youth ... who wanted to make something of himself.'

He was a scholarship student at Holy Cross, and his record at Georgetown University Law School led him swiftly to a position in the big Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson.

There, he mostly defended corporate interests in negligence and damage suits. In one such case, Williams discovered during cross-examination that a bus driver's income was higher than his own. So in 1949, he struck out on his own, beginning with a tiny one-room office.

His firm took on a growing number of lawyers and, while none of them achieved Williams' stature, many made names for themselves. One of them, Fuller, defended presidential assailant John Hinckley, who was acquitted of shooting President Reagan by reason of insanity. Another, Brendan Sullivan, assisted Lt. Col. Oliver North during congressional hearings into the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal.

Williams served three years as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee from 1974-77 and in 1975 turned down an offer from President Gerald Ford to head the CIA. He was chairman of the board and president of the Baltimore Orioles, chairman of Holy Cross College and president of the Catholic Knights of Malta.

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He was married in 1946 to Dorothy Guider, a granddaughter of one of the chief partners at Hogan & Hartson. She died in 1959, leaving Williams with three children. Williams wed Agnes Neill in 1960 and the couple had four children.

'He was one of a kind, a legend in his own day,' Fuller said. 'He's been fighting this disease. He fought it as hard as he could.'

Fuller said he first met Williams 32 years ago at Georgetown University while Fuller was a law student and Williams was his criminal law professor.

'He was a teacher to us all,' Fuller said. 'He demanded the highest levels of performance of us and he did for himself as well. He was an inspiration to us. We will miss Ed Williams tremendously.'

As famous as the fictional television attorney Perry Mason, Williams was a master of the courtroom who used charm and confidence to woo juries and wage legal war for his clients.

Adroit, brainy, handsome and industrious, Williams gained national success as a trial lawyer in his early 30s. Despite repeated bouts of cancer in later years, he remained a tireless advocate for the accused throughout his life.

His clients were as colorful and controversial as Williams himself, ranging from conservatives to communists, mobsters to madames.

Advertisement

The list included Hoffa, McCarthy, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Frank Costello, mogul of the underworld.

Although the public often associated him with the sometimes villainous folk he represented, Williams was a firm believer that any accused person is entitled to the best defense.

'The lawyer,' he wrote in the book 'One Man's Freedom,' 'is neither expected nor qualified to make a moral judgment on the person seeking his help.'

For Williams' clients, the best defense was often expensive. He commanded huge fees from those who could afford them, but often pointed out that his firm took on the causes of the penniless for free.

He invested some of the proceeds of his labor in professional sports, buying an interest in the Washington Redskins football team in the early 1960s and later fulfilling a childhood dream by owning a major league baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles. He was also the consummate Washington insider, friend of Republicans and Democrats alike.

Williams was not invincible, but his batting average was high.

He defended Joseph McCarthy, the virulent Wisconsin anti-communist, in a libel suit and tax case and became nationally famous in 1954 when he advised McCarthy in the Senate censure action against him. Although Williams lost the case, legal observers attributed it to McCarthy's interference outside the hearing room.

Advertisement

During the same period, Williams represented several Hollywood writers who had been targeted by the communist 'witchhunt,' including Sidney Buchman, Robert Rossen, Martin Berkeley and Max Benoff.

In 1956, Williams entered the tax evasion and denaturalization case of the gravel-voiced mob boss Frank Costello. His nine years of work on the matter culminated in a 1964 Supreme Court ruling that saved Costello from deportation to his native Italy.

Williams used every tactic he knew to win acquittal in 1957 for Hoffa on bribery charges when the government's case looked air-tight. Some of Williams' critics contended he won the case by bringing Joe Louis, the black boxer, into the courtroom to display his friendship with Hoffa before the 12 jurors, eight of whom were black.

In 1960, Williams obtained the dismissal of two counts in a three-count tax evasion indictment against New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. A hung jury was declared on the third count after jurors deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal.

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