Benjamin Brafman

Clients and Judges Respect Him

By Tim Boxer

ENJAMIN BRAFMAN, an Orthodox Jew from the Five Towns on Long Island with a remarkably successful law firm in Midtown Manhattan, lists such high-profile clients as Carmine Agnello, ex-mob boss John Gotti’s son-in-law; pop star Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, allegedly involved in a shooting at Club New York, and nightclub impresario Peter Gatien, acquitted of charges that he turned the Limelight and Tunnel into virtual drug supermarkets.

No wonder the 51-year-old wunderkind has become New York’s most famous criminal defense lawyer.

Due to the enormous publicity generated by these and other celebrated cases, it has become a lot easier for Brafman to remain shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant) in a high-pressure arena. “The court treats me with deference and respect and I have no problems in this area,” he says.

Nevertheless, Brafman, whom New York magazine named as best defense lawyer, is overjoyed with the prospect of Joseph Lieberman as vice president.

“With Lieberman observing religious holidays,” Brafman says, “it will make life easier for younger Orthodox professionals and businessmen.”

(As my wife Nina puts it, “Lieberman would be the second Jew in the Oval Office since Monica.”)

In his travels, he encounters an extraordinary degree of ignorance about Orthodox practice, especially pertaining to the holidays. “We think the whole world knows about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but they are in fact not known or understood in small towns around the country.”

That is changing now that Lieberman has sparked universal discussion about his religious practice.

Being an observant Jew, says Brafman, can at times impact on his professional obligations. Then he’ll make compromises.

When a trial is in critical posture during a religious holiday, it might be impossible for him to be at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Lawrence, Long Island, where he is a trustee. He’ll stay in a hotel and walk to court so that his client not suffer from his absence.

“This year,” he notes, “when the High Holidays come out on weekends, we get a break. When the holidays were in the middle of the week, they’ve been nightmares for me.”

In his Midtown office on the 26th floor of a Third Ave. skyscraper, he told me about the clients he represents – actors, Hasidim, professional killers, Wall St. types, doctors, private investigators, all of whom are under investigation or indicted.

He says he’s never lost a client due to his religious observance. “On the contrary, being able to debate with a Talmudic background, listen to both sides, has been a great benefit. People respect me for that.”

Brafman occasionally finds himself in a situation where he is threatened, but not so much as to cause concern.

A sense of humor, he’s found, can make all the difference in the world. When Mafia chief John Gotti, now serving a life sentence, faced his last trial where other lawyers represented him, he consulted Brafman as a tape expert to review certain revealing tapes the government had.

Gotti asked what kind of jurors might be best for the trial.

“Try to find deaf people for the jury,” the Brafman advised.

The humor broke the tension in the room.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Brafman grew up in an Orthodox home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and attended Yeshiva Torah V’Daas. His older brother Aaron is an Orthodox rabbi in nearby Far Rockaway. His wife Lynda is the librarian at Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR). Their daughter Jennifer is a Stern College graduate; son David went to HAFTR.

Jennifer is married to Mordecai Lent, a ceo of an Internet car leasing company, David, a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University, married Jasmine Sohacheski Sept. 10 in Beverly Hills.

The next day Brafman was back in court in Brooklyn to represent Chris Paciello, owner of the Miami club Liquid and former Madonna boyfriend, accused of racketeering and murder. Stay tuned.


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