George B. Newhouse, a prosecutor in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office, is about to stop putting high-profile criminals in prison. In fact, he'll be fighting to keep his clients free.
The longtime prosecuting attorney specializing in white-collar crime is becoming a defense attorney at the Los Angeles office of McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen LLP.
At first glance, it's not a likely switch. Newhouse becomes incensed when he speaks of his efforts to catch those who tried to take advantage of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided relief after the Northridge earthquake.
"There is no end to the nefarious activities of people who would cheat and steal from the government," he said. "We uncovered a lot of schemes."
After one apartment building collapsed, resulting in several deaths, a number of people contacted FEMA claiming to have been there at the time of the earthquake. "They would file for benefits thinking that no one would ever check," Newhouse said. "We'd say, 'Sorry, no one survived there.' "
But Newhouse said the job of prosecutor is not an ideal one. Most of his time has been devoted to investigation, and very little to actually prosecuting cases. After years of research, the culprit would often plead guilty and Newhouse would never even go to trial.
He hadn't planned on having this kind of life. When he graduated from Harvard University in 1976, he wanted to be a doctor. But when he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar to get his master's, he suddenly realized that "being a doctor was fine, but I wanted to be a lawyer."
After receiving a law degree from Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley and having no idea what kind of law he wanted to practice he went back to the States and got a job as a law clerk. It was there he decided that being a trial lawyer "looked like fun." He applied to the U.S. Attorney's office after that.
Newhouse is philosophical about his switch to the defense side. For the system to work, he says, "it takes people on both sides of the fence." Newhouse believes the transition is "a good thing to do, because you become less polemical."
He makes his career change with complete confidence because he believes in the system. He calmly dismisses his critics, who might accuse him of selling out. "People are so cynical," he said. "I'm going to do justice."
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