present.’ And he chuckled and others on the bench laughed. It was
a moment that was unforgettable.”
Two weeks after hearing the case, the justices decided they had
granted certiorari improvidently and dismissed it.
The case had been an exhilarating experience for Ravenell, who
had by then risen to partner. It had also been an anomaly. Most of his
cases were small cases, and he was handling a high volume of them.
“We were like a machine, in some respects, doing all these
cases,” he says. “It began to feel like we were in this constantly
churning mill. … We still had to give each client our best. That
meant that we didn’t go home. We were there late all the time. It
got to be a situation that just wasn’t working for me.”
RELIEF FROM THE MACHINE CAME FROM ONE OF THE HEAVIEST
strains on it. From 1995 to 2002, Billy Murphy sent almost all
of his routine criminal cases to Ravenell. After a while, Murphy
did a historical review of this work. “It looked like he was winning
about 93 percent of all the cases I was sending him,” Murphy says.
“Outright ‘not guilty.’”
So in 2007 Murphy enticed Ravenell to join his firm as a senior
partner, with the promise of fewer but bigger cases.
“The first thing we did is we tried an eight-month criminal trial
in the federal court in Long Island,” says Murphy, “and I got a
chance to see the latest version of Ken Ravenell. It was nothing
short of amazing.”
Ravenell and Murphy were co-counsel on a RICO conspiracy
case against Rodney Morrison, a former drug dealer who married
a Native American and set up a business selling cigarettes on the
Poospatuck Reservation on Long Island. Morrison was accused
of murdering the owner of another cigarette stand, stealing yet
another competitor’s product, and burning the car of someone
who was slow in repaying a debt. But it was something else
that brought federal investigators down on him, the same thing
that got Al Capone: tax evasion. Since Morrison was selling on a
reservation, the cigarettes were tax-free and droves of people came
to purchase truckloads of cheap cigarettes, essentially creating a
wholesale business that didn’t pay taxes. The murder, robbery and
arson charges were then rolled into the RICO case.
During the pretrial phase, Murphy wanted to suppress
damaging statements the client made right after being arrested.
He had a conversation with Ravenell over lunch just before the
hearing to go over his plan to grill the FBI agent who had heard
their client’s initial statement. “I gave him a little bit of the
background,” says Murphy, “and I asked what he would do. And he
just came up, off the top, with some tremendous ideas. And I said,
‘Ken, why don’t you take this witness. I like your ideas better than
I like mine.’ … And the judge said in his opinion: ‘If it hadn’t been
for the remarkably effective cross-examination by Mr. Ravenell, I
wouldn’t suppress this evidence.’”
If Ravenell’s caseload decreased, the long hours did not. For
Morrison, he worked until 9 o’clock every night; then he’d wake up
in the early morning to continue his preparation.
“Whenever I’d knock on the door at 4 or 5 o’clock in the
morning,” says Murphy, “I’d hear, ‘Yeah, what is it?’ And he’d be
sitting at his desk with his little yellow sheets, underlining, going
through documents, getting ready to kill the next witness.”
The long hours paid off. “[Morrison] was looking at life in prison,”
says Ravenell, “and the government wanted to seize $172 million
of his money. When we finished the case they got zero. … The jury
was out 30 days in deliberation, came back, and it was almost a
clean sweep, a smashing victory. The guy was only convicted of
possession of a handgun.”
“He really thrives on these large, complex cases,” says Gibson.
“I’ve watched him start out as a defense lawyer with mundane,
everyday matters. But through all of this, his understated
demeanor hasn’t changed one bit.”
At the same time, the man knows how to put on a show. In
a case where his client had been charged with murdering her
boyfriend while he slept, Ravenell used the battered woman
syndrome as her defense. The state argued the boyfriend had been
asleep when she shot him in the head; Ravenell argued that she
had woken up with the boyfriend on top of her, holding a knife to
her neck, and that she had been able to pull a gun from beneath
click on video icon
RAVENELL TALKS ABOU T WHY HIS
LONG HOURS OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE
WORK DON’T SEEM LONG TO HIM.
click on video icon
RAVENELL GOES HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH U.S.
SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA AND
WINS HIM OVER WITH HONEST Y AND HUMOR.