June 23, 2010 6:35 PM
Christopher Coke Captured, Manatt Phelps Speaks Out
Posted by Brian Baxter
UPDATE: June 24, 2:28 p.m. The New York Times reports that Christopher Coke is being flown to the U.S. today to face criminal charges in New York.
Jamaican authorities are calling for calm after fugitive drug baron Christopher "Dudus" Coke was taken into custody late Tuesday, shortly before he tried to turn himself in to officials at the U.S. embassy in Kingston. Two former Am Law 100 lawyers are weighing in on the matter, as is the firm embroiled in the months-long controversy over his extradition, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
Jamaican security forces captured Coke (pictured above) while he was riding in a vehicle with the Rev. Al Miller, an evangelical minister who had previously helped broker the surrender of Coke's brother and sister, according to The New York Times. Coke had managed to evade capture since late May, when running gun battles took place in Kingston between his supporters and local law enforcement officials seeking to arrest him on U.S. drug charges.
For months, Jamaican prime minster Bruce Golding and his ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had refused to extradite Coke--indicted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan in August 2009 on drug and gun trafficking charges--by claiming that evidence cited by federal prosecutors in the U.S. for an August 2009 indictment relied on wiretaps illegally obtained under Jamaican law.
But Golding's political opponents seized on a lobbying contract the government signed with Manatt last year shortly after Coke's indictment, and the subsequent squabbling over Coke's future exposed the deep ties between criminal gangs and political leaders in both of the Caribbean island nation's leading parties, the JLP and the People's National Party (PNP).
Manatt general counsel Monte Lemann II spoke with The American Lawyer about the firm's role representing the government of Jamaica for a story in the July/August issue of The American Lawyer. That story is now available online here. When asked for a reaction to Coke's arrest on Tuesday, a Manatt spokesman reiterated the firm's long-standing position that it never worked on the Coke matter.
Coke has worries of his own. Coke's Jamaican lawyer and JLP member Tom Tavares-Finson ceased representing him last month--Tavares-Finson's daughter was also taken into custody on Wednesday for reported gang links--and, according to some observers, the alleged drug kingpin has reason to be concerned about his own personal safety.
"Coke has to be worried that he'll be killed," says David Rowe, a Jamaican national and law professor at the University of Miami, who previously was a partner at Holland & Knight. "He knows everything about the JLP, the prime minister, and the connections between everyone. Who knows what he might say before his case goes to trial."
Coke's father, Lester "Jim Brown" Coke, was a leader of the same Shower Posse criminal gang his son is accused of heading, but died in a mysterious prison fire in 1992 while awaiting extradition to the U.S.
Coke has reportedly sought to waive his right to an extradition proceeding, but Rowe thinks that Jamaican officials will keep him in the country on charges that he and his supporters in the rough Kingston garrison neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens shot at police sent to extract him for extradition last month. (The clashes claimed more than 70 lives, including two policemen and one soldier.)
Another Am Law 100 alum, former Jamaican minister of foreign affairs Anthony Hylton with the opposition PNP, tells The Am Law Daily that Coke should be sent to the U.S. to face the federal charges brought against him in last August's indictment.
"For those of us who know the history of [Coke's] father, it's not surprising that Coke wants to go to the U.S. rather than remain here in prison," says Hylton, a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center who worked for Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle and Dickstein Shapiro before serving as Jamaica's foreign minister from 2006 to 2007.
Hylton says that the PNP favors transferring Coke over to U.S. officials in order to ensure domestic stability, a position he believes is supported by Jamaican law enforcement. Hylton slightly demurs when asked whether the political crisis brought about over Coke's contested extradition has highlighted links between advisers close to the JLP and illicit activities by the Shower Posse and Coke.
"The extent and particulars of that are better qualified definitely from the law enforcement side," Hylton says.
Hylton admits that when he served as minister of foreign of affairs during the PNP's reign, the Jamaican government did from time to time retain the services of outside foreign firms. But Hylton says "there are settled procedures for engaging foreign firms," and that "none of those procedures were followed in [the Coke] case."
Rowe, currently a solo practitioner in Fort Lauderdale, says that the row over Coke's extradition and his eventual arrest highlights the usefulness of U.S. laws like the Foreign Agents Registration Act in making a difference abroad.
"All of this shows that good laws in America that work well like [FARA] can have in impact in other countries where the disclosure rules are not clear," Rowe says. "[FARA] made a difference here as the Golding administration was nearly forced to resign over the disclosure of a lobbying relationship. And they'll have to be sensitive to similar disclosures in the future."
Contact Brian Baxter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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