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E. Robert Wallach, 88, Lawyer Linked to Reagan-Era Scandal, Dies

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E. Robert Wallach, whose profession as a heavyweight trial lawyer in California was overshadowed by his connection to one in all the largest corruption scandals to hit Washington throughout the Reagan administration, died on May 15 at his home in Alameda, Calif., near Berkeley. He was 88.

His daughter Nancy Garvey confirmed the death but didn’t specify the cause.

Almost from the moment he graduated at the highest of his law school class from the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Wallach was widely considered among the finest personal injury lawyers in California.

It wasn’t his preferred field: The kid of factory employees in Latest York, he had dreamed of entering labor law, but there have been no jobs available. As a substitute, by the Seventies he was known for winning headline-making verdicts, including one in all California’s first million-dollar medical malpractice judgments.

A progressive Democrat who drove a vintage Jaguar and wore Brioni suits, he embodied San Francisco’s mixture of idealism and material success; The Los Angeles Times called him “a complicated, liberal lawyer from this sophisticated, liberal city.”

He was known for his eccentricities. He preferred to spell his full name with all lowercase letters — friends called him “lowercase bob” — and in 1976 he ran for the US Senate on a platform calling for the decriminalization of marijuana. (He dropped out before the first.)

So it got here as a shock to many when, within the early Eighties, he shuttered his practice and moved to Washington to turn into an unofficial adviser to Edwin Meese III, a detailed friend since law school who had turn into a counselor to President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Meese had been teaching on the University of San Diego, but Mr. Wallach encouraged him to enter the administration.

At a going-away lunch in San Francisco, Mr. Wallach told a gaggle of lawyers and judges that he might be their door to the White House. To some, it was a cynical move to money in on his sudden proximity to power. But Mr. Wallach insisted that he was just attempting to help his progressive allies during a conservative administration.

And, indeed, most of his work in Washington was pro bono, including advising a small defense contractor within the South Bronx called Wedtech. Mr. Wallach was drawn in by the corporate’s bootstrapping story — its founders were working-class immigrants — and he agreed to assist it win a deal to make small engines for the Army.

Mr. Wallach wrote memos to Mr. Meese extolling Wedtech. Mr. Meese in turn pushed skeptical Army officials to seal the deal, and in 1982 Wedtech won a no-bid contract for $32 million.

Mr. Wallach wasn’t the one Washington figure working with Wedtech. It later emerged that the corporate had poured huge sums into the coffers of politicians, lobbyists and former administration officials to win big Pentagon deals, often doctoring invoices to cover bribes.

It worked: Wedtech soon had $250 million in contracts. But prosecutors got wind of the corporate’s maneuverings, and in 1986 began charging company executives and top Washington figures with an extended list of crimes.

By then Mr. Meese was President Reagan’s attorney general, and Mr. Wallach was on retainer with Wedtech. Along the best way Mr. Wallach had persuaded Mr. Meese to rent a financial adviser named W. Franklyn Chinn to handle his nest egg in a blind trust; Mr. Chinn, because it happened, was a member of the Wedtech board.

Wedtech went bankrupt in 1986, and the following 12 months Mr. Wallach, Mr. Chinn and one other associate were indicted on 18 charges, including mail fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

The Iran-contra affair stays the defining scandal of the late Reagan era, however the Wedtech case was similarly calamitous. It led to the conviction of greater than a dozen people, including Lyn Nofziger, Reagan’s former press secretary (whose conviction was overturned on appeal).

Mr. Meese had already weathered several scandals, and by 1988 bipartisan pressure was constructing on him to resign. Although an independent counsel declined to charge him with a criminal offense, the counsel’s report castigated him for ignoring the spirit of presidency ethics laws. He finally resigned in August 1988.

Mr. Wallach insisted that he was a victim, an idealistic naïf manipulated by Wedtech executives. “I even have found I’m such a babe within the woods,” he told The Washington Post in 1987.

Still, he was convicted of fraud in 1989 and sentenced to 6 years in prison.

He appealed, and he became something of a cause célèbre amongst lawyers on each the left and the proper who believed the case was politically motivated, using Mr. Wallach to get at Mr. Meese and even Reagan. The conservative jurist Robert Bork organized his defense; Dennis P. Riordan, who had defended Black Panthers in California, joined the hassle.

In the course of the appeal, it emerged that the prosecution’s two top witnesses had perjured themselves, and that the prosecution likely knew in regards to the perjury but stayed quiet. The case was thrown out, but the federal government launched a recent case against Mr. Wallach in 1991.

This time, Mr. Wallach decided to defend himself — a dangerous decision, especially given the legal firepower being brought against him by the Southern District of Latest York, led on the time by Rudolph Giuliani.

The case dragged on for 2 years, but Mr. Wallach prevailed. In 1993, with the jury deadlocked, the Department of Justice decided to drop it.

Mr. Wallach was legally clear but financially ruined. It had been almost a decade since he had a daily stream of income, the case had drained his savings, and, especially back in California, his popularity was in tatters.

Undeterred, he returned to the Bay Area. He was soon winning cases and rebuilding his popularity; over the course of his 58-year profession, he took 283 cases to verdict and lost just 14 of them.

He taught at several Bay Area law schools and mentored dozens of young lawyers, offering courtroom suggestions and impressing upon them the importance of mastering the craft of trial litigation.

“He said that each trial was an excellent drama dominated by the hidden truths of human nature,” Robert J. Giuffra Jr., a detailed friend who’s a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell, said in a phone interview. “By most individuals’s accounts, Bob was considered one in all the best trial lawyers of his generation.”

Eugene Robert Wallach was born on April 11, 1934, in Manhattan. His parents, Ben and Eva (Lowenstein) Wallach, had met as laborers at a hat factory in Harlem. They divorced when Bob was 7, after which he and his mother moved to Los Angeles.

With World War II underway, Mrs. Wallach found a job making bomb bay doors at a Lockheed aircraft factory — she was, Mr. Wallach said, a real “Rosie the Riveter.”

A highschool teacher introduced him to debate, and he was ok to win a full scholarship to the University of Colorado. He later transferred to the University of Southern California, where he graduated in 1955. He worked throughout college and law school; while at Berkeley, he worked in a cannery.

He met Mr. Meese during their third 12 months, where they were each on the mock trail team. Though they were political opposites, they became close friends. When Mr. Wallach’s wife, Barbara, was hospitalized, the Meeses cared for the Wallachs’ three daughters; later, when the Meeses’ son died in a automobile crash while they were out of town, Mr. Wallach identified his body.

Mr. Wallach’s marriage resulted in divorce. Along along with his daughter Nancy, he’s survived by two other daughters, Jamie Wallach and Bonny Wallach, and 7 grandchildren.

Mr. Wallach began his profession at Walker & Downing, a San Francisco firm, and struck out on his own in 1971. While in Washington, he was appointed to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy and was later, named ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

He worked as hard after his return from Washington as he had before, if not harder. He spent a decade as senior counsel to the Sharper Image, and in 2012 and 2013, at an age when most lawyers retire, he spent 134 days in court, working on three trials. In 2016 he became senior counsel at Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver.

He never regretted the time he spent in Washington, but he did express remorse for encouraging Mr. Meese to affix the Reagan administration.

“Ed agonized over whether to go to Washington,” he told The Washington Post. “I regret to at the present time whatever role I played.”

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