- Law Job Star
Trouble in Vegas? Meet Criminal Defense Attorney Gabriel ''Gabe'' Grasso
by Mary Waldron
Grasso and his family immigrated to the United States from Argentina when he was only four years old, settling in Laurel, MD, and then Camp Springs, MD, when he was a teenager. By the time he was in his teens, Grasso knew that he wanted to pursue a white-collar career path rather than a blue-collar one like his father had.
"He would take me to work with him in the summer, and I hated it. I hated doing the same thing every day. Not really much intellectual stimulation," Grasso says of the work at his father's print shop.
Grasso also thought about being a pilot, but when he finally got the chance to fly, he found that that wasn't for him either.
Knowing that whatever career he chose would require an education, Grasso proceeded to college at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, where he later developed a passion for history. However, his hopes of becoming a history professor were soon discouraged by his own professors because of the lack of pay.
After that, Grasso began to think about going to law school. He already had an interest in criminal law, so there was never a question of what area he would specialize in. Because Grasso's family had migrated to Florida when he was 18, he was in the perfect location to attend the University of Miami School of Law, which he did.
"I went to the University of Miami. It's not up there with Harvard and Yale, but it's a good law school," he said. "I can tell people right now that after your first job out of law school, no one cares where you went to law school. Make the most out of the school you're at because that's not going to make a difference. If you want to get a job at a huge firm in Manhattan, where you went to law school may make a big difference, but again, that's your first job."
Grasso got a head start on his career during law school by interning for the Dade County (now Dade-Miami County) Public Defender's Office when he was a 2L and 3L. By the time he was a 3L, Grasso was certified by the Supreme Court to practice law.
"I tried like three jury trials before I ever graduated from law school," he says.
After he graduated magna cum laude in December of 1988 and passed the bar exam a few months later, Grasso was offered a job with a prominent civil firm called Kelley, Drye & Warren.
Though his passion was to be a public defender, Grasso was supporting a growing family, so he accepted the job with the firm.
Unfortunately, the glitzy salary wasn't enough to keep Grasso fulfilled at the firm.
"I lasted six months. I wasn't 'one of the boys,' and I just didn't fit in," he says.
It was at this job that Grasso found a valuable mentor and supporter in public defender Alan Schreiber.
"He was the public defender in our county," says Grasso. "That was the best job I ever had. Al Schreiber was the best boss I ever had," he says.
Also during his time at the public defender's office, Grasso looked up to then semi-retired public defender and former state attorney Warner Olds.
"I did a couple of cases with him, and he taught me a lot of things," Grasso says.
Grasso stayed with the public defender's office from 1989 to 1995.
By the mid-1990s, Grasso was able to open his own private law office in Fort Lauderdale. As his career became more stable, Grasso was able to find more time to travel across the country. And when he got a taste of what the western United States had to offer, he was hooked.
"I realized, 'Wow, this is a really nice part of the country,'" Grasso says.
Without realizing that the Nevada bar exam is one of the most difficult to pass, Grasso tackled it and was admitted to practice in the state.
"I just came out here with nothing — I mean, a briefcase…I didn't know anybody. I just said, 'Well, I'm confident in my legal skills, and a good lawyer can make money anywhere.' I've never looked back; it's been great out here," says Grasso of his career shift to Las Vegas.
Since arriving in Vegas, Grasso has developed a track record that includes some of the city's most publicized cases, representing the 311 Boyz in the 2003 case where a gang of Nevada teenage boys were suspected of committing a series of violent acts, one of the Hell's Angels for a Laughlin shoot-out, and one of the Rollin' 60s Crips.
Grasso is also known for getting the North Dakota adultery statute declared unconstitutional. While defending a Nevada man, Lucius James Penn, after Penn's wife accused him of cheating on her with a 16-year-old girl, Grasso protested the law on several counts, including privacy rights, and won.
Today, he prepares for what may be one of the most media-driven and challenging cases of his career yet. With the help of his friend from his public defender days in Florida and long-time Simpson attorney Yale Galanter, Grasso will launch into the case on November 8 at the preliminary hearing.
"I've had some popular cases, but this O.J. thing is over the top," says Grasso. "When you push away all the media hype and attention, the O.J. case is just like any other robbery case. You can't really defend it any differently than you would any other robbery case that you might have."
"If this were a normal robbery case, you wouldn't have the prosecution giving away the courthouse with these plea deals with the co-defendants," he continues. "With O.J., they've basically singled him out, and they're sort of chopping away at the trees around him, and they're leaving him there standing alone — that's what they're looking to do."
"A trial is a show," says Grasso. "Especially jurors today with all the TV shows out — they want to see a show. Sometimes not acting like a 'lawyer' is the right thing to do. Sometimes it's the right thing to do to act like a 'lawyer' in the courtroom. It depends. You have to be able to read your jury."
During his career, Grasso has figured out one of the keys to success in law. It's something that's not even taught in law school. It's understanding and knowing how people work.
"Part of my success is being able to read people. My son who is on the road to law school asked me what to study in college. I said, 'Something like psychology or sociology because if you really understand people's personalities and the reasons people do things, then not only will you understand your clients better, but you will understand witnesses and jurors better.'"
He's also learned, probably from his job at Kelley, Drye & Warren, that a lawyer cannot be happy practicing unless it's in an area that he or she loves.
"If you enjoy what you're doing, you won't have to worry about money...ever. If you enjoy what you're doing and you're good, you can do well in any part of the legal field."