Attorney Eric Dubelier drew national headlines last week for his feisty courtroom advocacy on behalf of a Russian firm under indictment as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible U.S. election tampering.
But for half of his 37-year career, Dubelier was a prosecutor, starting out in New Orleans under former District Attorney Harry Connick Sr.
And as an assistant district attorney under Connick from 1981 to 1987, the Tulane University graduate had a hand in some controversial cases.
In 1985, Dubelier prosecuted former Tulane basketball star John “Hot Rod” Williams over a point-shaving scandal that led the university to shut down the Green Wave basketball program for years.
The judge ordered a mistrial on the second day of testimony, blaming Dubelier for failing to turn over a videotaped confession by another player, according to news accounts at the time. Williams was later acquitted in a retrial.
Dubelier, now 62, was married briefly to Connick’s niece. He also played a key role in a case that featured perhaps the most infamous episode of prosecutorial misconduct in New Orleans in a generation.
Dubelier led the trial team that helped ship John Thompson off to death row in 1985 for murder.
Thompson was staring at an execution date in 1999 when a defense investigator unearthed a lab report that undermined his conviction in an earlier armed robbery trial that Dubelier had also prosecuted.
Dubelier, the lead prosecutor in Thompson's subsequent murder trial, used the earlier armed robbery conviction to persuade a jury to hand Thompson a death sentence.
Another prosecutor, Gerry Deegan, revealed nearly a decade later on his deathbed that he had intentionally hidden the lab report in the armed robbery case from Thompson's trial attorneys. The man to whom Deegan confessed, another former prosecutor, revealed it only years later.
Thompson’s convictions were overturned and a jury acquitted him in a retrial on the murder. He would later win a $14 million jury award against the District Attorney’s Office. The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the judgment in 2011, however, ruling that Thompson had failed to show a pattern of misconduct by Orleans prosecutors.
Dubelier was originally named as a defendant in Thompson’s suit but was later dismissed from it.
He claimed he was unaware of the blood test results.
“If this report was not turned over, I didn’t see it,” he testified. “I prosecuted thousands of cases when I was a DA and turned over thousands of these types of reports. If I had the report, I would have turned it over.”
Pat Fanning, a New Orleans attorney who represented Thompson at his murder trial, said, “I don’t have reason to believe Eric knew anything about” the hidden lab report.
Fanning, himself a former federal prosecutor, said he recalled Dubelier as "always very reasonable" as a prosecutor.
“He’s a very smart guy, very hard-working guy, one of these guys that grinds hours and reads everything,” Fanning said.
“When he was a prosecutor, he was very aggressive. Some guys make the switch (to defense work) and some guys don’t. I think that Eric is probably the same way for his clients now.”
Dubelier had left the District Attorney’s Office long before Thompson, who died last year, was set free.
He went on to serve as a federal prosecutor for 11 years — first in the Southern District of Florida, then in Washington, D.C., before leaving the government in 1998.
In federal court, Dubelier successfully prosecuted Martin Duran, a Colorado man who unleashed semi-automatic rifle fire at the White House in 1994 and then claimed insanity.
Dubelier also secured a guilty plea and an $8.5 million fine in 1998 from an IBM subsidiary that had illegally exported powerful computers to a Russian nuclear weapons lab without federal approval, according to a New York Times account of the guilty plea.
Now a partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Reed Smith firm, Dubelier represents corporate clients in regulatory matters and white-collar criminal defendants, according to his biography on his firm’s website.
He did not return a message from The Advocate on Friday.
Dubelier's newest client is Concord Management and Consulting LLC, which is among three Russian firms and 13 individuals accused in a February indictment of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Concord is the only one of those defendants to have responded in court to the indictment — a product of Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. politics. Concord, through Dubelier and lawyer Katherine Seikaly, has pleaded not guilty.
The indictment accuses the company and its purported leader, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, of bankrolling an elaborate internet troll operation that aimed to influence American elections, including the 2016 presidential race.
Defendants in the case, “posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences,” the indictment claims. “These groups and pages, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists when, in fact, they were controlled by defendants.”
In legal filings and during a court hearing Wednesday, Dubelier presented an aggressive challenge to the indictment.
According to a Reuters report, he “traded barbs” with Mueller’s prosecutors at the hearing, accusing them of dragging their feet in disclosing evidence. Dubelier also accused a prosecutor of lying when she told a federal judge that he'd hung up on prosecutors during a phone conference.
In court, Dubelier described the prosecutor’s account of the call as “bull****.”
Dubelier and Seikaly also accused Mueller of conjuring up a “make-believe” crime in the indictment for political reasons.
The allegations have “absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian government,” they wrote. To “justify his own existence, the special counsel has to indict a Russian — any Russian.”
One former colleague in New Orleans expressed little surprise at Dubelier’s poke-the-bear defense tactic.
“He’s not a guy to back down,” said Ralph Capitelli, a former top deputy under Connick who is now a defense lawyer. He described Dubelier as “an extremely competent and seasoned criminal lawyer. He was a very bright, aggressive prosecutor.”
Several local lawyers said that former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten is among Dubelier's closest friends in New Orleans. Letten declined to comment for this story.