Catching up with Billy Martin: One of the Top Criminal and Civil Trial Lawyers in the Country

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Personal Life

Criminal and civil trial lawyer Billy Martin
Billy Martin is the majority owner and founder of Washington D.C.'s Martin & Gitner, PLLC. We've profiled him in the past on LawCrossing, and are glad we had a chance to catch up with him and his new firm. For the past thirty-seven years, Mr. Martin has built a national reputation as a litigator who handles high profile and sensitive criminal and civil litigation. He has handled more than 200 jury trials and high profile matters, many involving large corporate clients, leading figures in sports, politics and entertainment. Many of those matters were covered extensively in the media. Mr. Martin's prominent clients have included NFL star Michael Vick, NBA stars Jayson Williams and Allen Iverson, Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell, Senator Larry Craig, Monica Lewinsky's mother, and missing intern Chandra Levy's parents.

The attorney's varied practice areas also focuses on white collar and civil litigation before federal and state courts and in administrative hearings in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country. In addition to Mr. Martin's litigation practice, he has extensive experience with corporate internal investigations, assisting significantly as an Integrity and Ethics advisor on behalf of corporations, government agencies and courts. His internal investigations for corporations usually remain private and are rarely released to the public. Most recently in 2012, Mr. Martin served as lead outside counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics in connection with its investigation and hearing of a Member of Congress.

He is a member of the Board of the American Arbitration Association. Mr. Martin has represented parties in arbitration and has served as an arbitrator in private disputes. This trial lawyer is also a member of the D. C. Bar Association, National Bar Association, American Bar Association and he is President of the Washington Bar Association.

Before entering private practice, Mr. Martin served as a federal and state prosecutor from 1976 to 1980 in Ohio. From 1980 to 1984, he served as a Special Attorney in the Organized Crime Strike Force in San Francisco. Mr. Martin then moved from San Francisco and served as a trial Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., from 1984 to 1988, when he was promoted to Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, a position he held until 1990, when he began the private practice of law.

Over the years, Mr. Martin has been awarded with several distinctions. He has been listed in National Law Journal's "50 Most Influential Minority Attorneys" and is consistently listed in Washingtonian Magazine's "Top Lawyers, being ranked as high as fourth in the entire D.C. area." Mr. Martin was featured in Black Enterprise as a Top Lawyer and was recognized by Ebony Magazine as a Top Lawyer and one of America's unique individuals. He is a Super Lawyer who has also appeared in Legal Times and the Washington Business Journal. Mr. Martin received a Distinguished Alumni award from Howard University, his undergraduate school and also from the University of Cincinnati, College of Law, where he attended law school.

He was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Sewickley, PA. Mr. Martin graduated with a B.A. in Business Administration and Political Science from Howard University. He earned his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

When the fearless attorney isn't working, he enjoys a good round of golf. Mr. Martin is also an avid cyclist. He recently completed a seventy-mile bicycle race in the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Mr. Martin roots for the Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. He is a frequent visitor of Washington DC's Pesce seafood restaurant.

Mr. Martin's Successful Law Career

Does Mr. Martin have a most memorable law school experience? Although he looked forward to graduating, Mr. Martin said, "I was one of those law students who enjoyed law school and the Socratic method. I enjoyed my criminal law classes, debating with law professors and students." The attorney noted that he enjoyed when he would sometimes best his law professors in legal debates.

The Super Lawyer was asked if he received any awards or participated in any internship that influenced his decision to go into the law. Mr. Martin pointed out that he worked as a paid intern for two of Howard University's top professors. Both of those professors recommended that he consider law school.

Why did Mr. Martin decide to become an attorney? He explained that his interest in civil rights led him to law school. The trial lawyer also recognized that individuals retain his services when their corporate or professional reputation, life or money is on the line.

So what is the best part of his job? "I enjoy practicing law. I also enjoy the challenges of resolving or settling disputes. Most importantly, I really love the opportunity to try a case to a jury."

What is the trial lawyer known for professionally? "I fight very hard on behalf of my clients. I am prepared when I go to trial and I'm not easily pushed around. I'm known as someone who will push back, pushing back in a way that is appropriate under legal rules of evidence."

What area of the law is Mr. Martin most passionate about? "I am most passionate about civil rights and demanding and receiving equal justice under the law. Justice should be available and equal for everyone."

In regards to his strengths and one weakness, he asserted, "I spent the past thirty-seven years investigating and defending complex white collar cases as well as prosecuting and investigating cases. I would like to think that I've never missed a piece of critical evidence. I am always prepared and ready for trial." As for his weakness, Mr. Martin claimed, "My clients' legal problems sometimes get close to me so I try to maintain a separate and professional level between my legal advice and the client's legal problems."

What does he think about the legal field today? The attorney candidly stated, "It takes too long to have a client's matter heard in court. I am frustrated that it may take years for my clients to have their day in court".

If he weren't a lawyer, what would Mr. Martin probably be doing? "I would spend more time with my family."

The trial lawyer was asked where he sees himself in five years' time. "As a manager and owner of the firm. I would like to see the firm grow to be the top litigation firm in Washington D.C. I expect to still be in the trenches fighting cases."

Pro Bono Work and Mr. Martin's Mentor and Mentoring Others

Does Mr. Martin have a mentor? "Johnnie Cochran was my mentor and friend for fifteen years." Mr. Martin continued to say that he mentors at least two law students or young attorneys each month. Over the years, he has enjoyed mentoring hundreds of law students and attorneys. Mr. Martin visits law schools and personally makes himself available to educate students on how to become a better lawyer.

Does he handle pro bono work? "I have always handled pro bono work since becoming a lawyer." Mr. Martin recalled his most memorable pro bono case, which involved a death row inmate in Philadelphia. Although the governor of Pennsylvania had signed the inmate's execution order, Mr. Martin said he and his legal team were able to have the sentence reduced from the death penalty to life in prison. The trial lawyer added, "His case is still pending and we are now fighting for a new trial to vindicate and prove his innocence."

Serving as a State and Federal Prosecutor, Special Attorney in the Organized Crime Strike Force and as Outside counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics

Mr. Martin served as a state and federal prosecutor when he was in Cincinnati, from 1976-1978 and 1978-1980, respectively. How was this experience for the young attorney? "I was a local city prosecutor in Cincinnati. It was valuable experience and I was in court every day for three years. I learned to try cases and it was the most enjoyable job as a lawyer that you could experience." The former prosecutor said his experience as a young prosecutor taught him how to conduct investigations and to exercise appropriate judgment.

Mr. Martin served as a Special Attorney in the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force (1980-1984) in San Francisco. How was this experience? "I was assigned to prosecute the Al Capone Mafia family. I prosecuted real mobsters for unimaginable crimes. Some of those investigations lasted four to five years, some included wiretap investigations and gang murders. Even my corporate clients enjoy hearing or reading about those cases."

He also recently served as lead outside counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics. What did Mr. Martin learn from this experience? "This was the first time I worked with congress. I worked with Democrats and Republicans and I learned how to serve as counsel to both sides without involving myself in political issues that confront members of congress." My legal advice was considered and accepted by both parties. That's not always an easy task in Washington.

Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and High Profile Cases

Mr. Martin went on to become Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. How was this experience? "It was a job with great responsibility. All criminal cases were reviewed by me to determine if we would prosecute." Mr. Martin explained that he was the second person in charge when the U.S. Attorney traveled. He stated, "I sometimes was the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and it was a position I greatly respected." Mr. Martin acknowledged that as the Executive Assistant U. S. Attorney, he was a liaison with judges. He still works with many of those judges to this day.

Mr. Martin tried more than 150 jury trials. Is there a case that stands out the most for him, and if so, why? He answered that what stood out the most was "the investigation of Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. It stands out because I was representing key witnesses that had evidence that could impeach and possibly remove the President of the United States."

In July 2007, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was charged by federal authorities with felony charges of conducting an illegal interstate dog fighting operation also known as "Bad Newz Kennels." The NFL star was indicted for participating in dogfights and executions, directly financing the enterprise and personally giving out thousands of dollars for gambling activities. Vick pleaded guilty to "Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture." The number one round pick admitted to financing most of the operation and for being directly involved in a number of dog fights in South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. Vick also acknowledged that he was responsible for the deaths of six to eight dogs. He received a three-year sentence, donated a million dollars for the care of dogs and paid a $2,500 fine. He was released on July 20, 2009.

Mr. Martin represented Vick and has stated, "From the beginning, Mr. Vick has accepted responsibility for his actions, and his self-surrender (and going to jail early) further demonstrates that acceptance." Does Vick's attorney still believe that? Mr. Martin responded, "He clearly accepted responsibility for everything he did. In my heart, Michael was sorry for hurting the dogs, his family, animal lovers, [and] the NFL and he regrets the pain he caused. I thought the punishment far exceeded the crime. He lost over $100 million for that conduct. I am proud he did his time and was able to successfully start over. I am also proud he has become the person he is today." Does Vick stay in touch with his attorney? Mr. Martin said, "He keeps in touch and he threatens to one day beat me in a game of golf."

On February 14, 2002, former NBA player Jayson Williams accidently shot and killed 55-year-old limousine driver Costas "Gus" Christofi. The limousine driver was hired to drive members of the Harlem Globetrotters Basketball team from Bethlehem, PA, to his residence located in Trenton, NJ. Members of the Globetrotters witnessed the shooting, which occurred at Williams' estate. Williams was improperly handling a shotgun while giving a tour of his 30,000 square-foot mansion when the firearm went off. Christofi was killed. Mr. Martin successfully defended Williams at trial in April 2004, during which Williams was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter. How does the attorney feel about getting Williams acquitted? "It was satisfying. It was a just and appropriate verdict. It really was an accident. We argued that Mr. Williams may have been negligent, but it was an accident." Mr. Martin explained that this case was televised daily, which caused unique problems. He added, "Attorneys and non-attorneys from all over the world were giving me advice in real time."

Motivation and How Mr. Martin Wants to Be Remembered

What motivates Mr. Martin to be an attorney everyday? "I like to win and I hate to lose. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out solutions or how to cut my clients' losses. I wake up thinking 'How do we win this.'"

How does the Pennsylvanian want to be remembered? "As a good man, a good lawyer and as someone who cares about his family."

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