Everyone seems to have a story about courtroom legend James Jay Hogan, who died this week at age 82, but no one will ever forget this surreal moment: In the mid-1980s, the Miami defense attorney got a key government witness to testify that in his previous life he was Hollywood icon Jean Harlow.
The credibility of the witness, it is safe to say, was instantly in serious question.
During the federal trial, Hogan unveiled a blown-up photo of the Roaring Twenties blonde bombshell, who died in 1937 of a brain infection. The man testifying was born five years later. Hogan’s client, a Miami lawyer accused of preparing phony real-estate documents for the witness, was acquitted.
Former law partner Hy Shapiro recalled how Hogan dug up the tidbit about Harlow from a little-known book written by the witness, a revelation that drew gapes and howls from jurors. He said Hogan’s secret weapon was his work ethic.
“He would eat, sleep and breathe a case when he got into it,” Shapiro said on Thursday. “He would delve more deeply than anyone into a witness’ life.”
Hogan had checked himself into Mount Sinai Medical Center a week ago, before taking his daily five-mile walk. He died Tuesday as a result of complications from respiratory problems, friends said.
After learning of his death, dozens of lawyers, judges and friends began sharing anecdotes on legal blogs and social media about Hogan, who was widely regarded as one of the best trial lawyers ever to step into a South Florida courtroom. Hogan, who was born in Kentucky and raised in the Northeast, came South to attend law school at the University of Miami. As a defense attorney, he dueled with federal prosecutors — most notably in Operation Court Broom, which targeted corrupt judges.
He also defended former Hialeah Mayor Raúl Martinez, who was convicted in 1991 on racketeering and extortion charges. But an appeals court overturned his conviction, saying the jury had received faulty instructions. Hogan did not represent Martinez in the retrial because the mayor said that, although the attorney defended him well, he could no longer afford his fees.
U.S. District Judge Robert Scola called Hogan a “true legal legend.” In 1990, before becoming a judge, Scola said he worked side by side with Hogan while representing two defendants in a seven-month, international money-laundering trial in Tampa. Both got up at 5:30 a.m. each day to prepare for trial, which involved a Colombian branch of Bank of Credit and Commerce International. “It was like participating in a legal seminar every day,” he wrote on the Southern District of Florida blog.
Scola told the Miami Herald that Hogan not only possessed total recall of documents in hundreds of boxes, but also exuded a commanding presence in the courtroom: “He was like E.F. Hutton. When he talked, people listened.”
After the trial, Hogan invited him to share space at his law office on South Dixie Highway in Miami. “The best lawyers in town would come by to see him for advice,” Scola said. “He was the go-to lawyer in Miami.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch recalled testifying as a lawyer on criminal procedure in the judicial bribery case Operation Court Broom.
“Ask me to recount a couple of highlights from my largely highlight-free career as a lawyer and a judge; at the top of the list you’ll find, ‘I was cross-examined by Jay Hogan.’ ”
“I couldn’t pick up my own bar tab for weeks,” Hirsch posted on the Southern District of Florida blog. “Every criminal lawyer in town was happy to buy my drinks just to hear me tell what it was like to be crossed by Hogan.”
Prominent Miami defense attorney Don Bierman described Hogan as a “giant of his generation” who was fearless of the feds.
Bierman teamed up with Hogan during the early 1970s to challenge a government wiretap in a Miami drug-trafficking case. The duo challenged the legality of the Justice Department’s procedures, which entailed the deputy attorney general reviewing and signing off on all wiretap requests. They asserted that the deputy was not authorized by Congress to play that role, only the attorney general or a specially designated assistant.
Then-Attorney General John Mitchell, who would later be brought down by the Watergate scandal, testified in Miami federal court that he reviewed all of the wiretap requests, although the deputy’s signature was on them. On appeal, a judge bluntly asked Bierman whether he believed that Mitchell lied under oath in Miami. Bierman said he could only bring himself to say something like he “misrepresented” the facts.
But as he sat down, Hogan stood up and declared: “The attorney general of the United States lied.” And with that, the Justice Department’s program and hundreds of wiretaps across the country were found to be illegal.
Said Bierman: “Jay was never afraid to call it as he saw it.”
Hogan, who stopped practicing law a decade ago, left a legacy that has influenced a whole new generation of criminal defense attorneys in Miami.
Attorneys Howard and Scott Srebnick, who looked up to Hogan as a mentor, said they would bounce legal strategies off him.
“There was no better way to prepare for trial than to test our defense theory on Jay,” said the brothers, who went to high school with Hogan’s daughters. “With our tails between our legs, he would often send us back to the drawing board, but always with a friendly smile, a pat on the back and a twinkle of pride in his eye.”
A celebration of Hogan’s life will be held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 2. Hogan is survived by his wife, Celia Hogan; his daughters, Dr. Skylar Ulrich and Sloan Klein; son-in-law Rob Klein; and six grandchildren.