The Gilbert Arenas Case Created an Interesting Situation: The Old D.C. U.S. Attorney Was Up Against The Office He Once Ran

Kenneth Wainstein

Ex-U.S. Atty. Kenneth Wainstein

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — The recent plea agreement involving NBA Wizards star Gilbert Arenas created an interesting set of circumstances: His attorney Kenneth Wainstein, a former U.S. Attorney for the District, was up against the office he used to run.

In fact, the acting U.S. Attorney, Channing Phillips, a long time employee of the office,  and a faithful Washington Wizards fan, had worked for Wainstein from 2004 to 2006.

So the question is: Did it help for Arenas to have Wainstein, an insider, somebody who knew the system?  Somebody who knew office policy and office personalities and what type of pleas had been doled out in many cases in the past?

We may never know for sure, though it appears Arenas didn’t get a plea agreement that was outside the norm. He had four guns, but pleaded guilty last Friday to only one count of carrying a pistol without a license.  He could get jail time or probation at his sentencing, which is  set for March 26 in D.C. Superior Court, the city criminal court. The D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes cases in both the city and federal courts.

Phillips and Wainstein declined to comment because the case is ongoing.

But former U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard, who headed the office  from 2001 to 2004,  and was Phillips’ boss as well, was able to provide some insight, saying it certainly can’t hurt to hire someone like Wainstein who has an intimate knowledge of the office.

He said it certainly doesn’t mean that Wainstein automatically got a better deal than another defense attorney, but it may have cut down on the get-to-know-you period between both sides and any outlandish demands, which can slow the process.

Former U.S. Atty. Roscoe Howard Jr.
Former U.S. Atty. Roscoe Howard Jr.

“It’s a familiarity situation. ‘We know the guy, he knows us’,” Howard said of the Wainstein and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

He said sometimes attorneys come from out of state and try to show how tough they are, and that can draw out the plea talks.

“Ken certainly knows the system. He understands what the protocols are what the policies are,” Howard said.

He said Wainstein was in all likelihood able to assure his client that he knows the office policies and what’s doable and what’s not.

“The fact each side is familiar with each other, it’s just easier to sit down and work something out.”

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