LAS VEGAS (AP) – When Warren Jeffs‘ brother went looking for a lawyer following the polygamist religious leader’s arrest in southern Nevada, he turned to Richard Wright.
“He’s the top gun in town right now,” said Charles Kelly, a Las Vegas lawyer and longtime friend. “He’s all substance and no style.”
Wright, 59, a folksy former federal prosecutor, only smiled and thrust his square jaw forward as he led Jeffs’ brother, Nephi Jeffs, past a reporter this week following a meeting in his office.
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Nephi Jeffs said nothing, and Wright politely declined to answer questions about representing the 50-year-old leader of the Utah and Arizona-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
His client doesn’t like publicity, he said.
That left it to Brock Belnap, the county attorney in Utah’s Washington County, to confirm that Wright was representing Warren Jeffs and helping find a local lawyer to try the case in Utah, where Jeffs faces felony rape as an accomplice charges that carry the possibility of life in prison.
A status hearing is scheduled Monday in St. George, Utah, where a judge has said he wants to know if Jeffs has a Utah lawyer. It isn’t immediately clear what role Wright will play after that. He’s not licensed to practice in Utah state courts.
If he remains on Jeffs’ legal team, the court will see someone with a style more Atticus Finch than Johnny Cochran.
Wright graduated from the University of Southern California law school, was admitted to the Nevada bar in 1972, and is certified to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Practicing in federal and Nevada state courts, Wright has been involved in some of the biggest legal cases in recent Las Vegas history – gamblers, a boxer, murderers and a grandmother – all with low-key aplomb.
He won Las Vegas casino executive Ted Binion multiple second chances during run-ins with state gambling regulators questioning him about mob connections a decade ago.
That was before Binion’s mysterious death in 1998.
Last month, Wright offered an unusually impassioned personal testimonial and 67 letters of support for another high-profile client, former Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey.
The judge handed the 68-year-old grandmother 2 1/2 years in federal prison following her conviction on federal political corruption charges. She confided to friends outside court that it could have been worse.
The same judge sentenced Kincaid-Chauncey’s co-defendant, former commission chairman Dario Herrera, 33, to four years and two months in prison on similar charges.
Last year, Wright won an acquittal for champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. after he was charged with hitting his former girlfriend during a 2003 argument outside a Las Vegas nightclub.
Wright also represented confessed child killer Jeremy Strohmeyer, who went to prison for life but was spared the death penalty in 1998 after pleading guilty to raping and strangling 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a casino restroom in Primm in 1997.
Strohmeyer later claimed Wright and another defense lawyer coerced him into pleading guilty. Clark County District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure scoffed at the allegation. He called Strohmeyer’s lawyers, including Wright, “the A-team of counsel.”
“He’s all about the law and facts,” said Kelly, also a former federal prosecutor who recalled admiring Wright’s tactics as opposing defense counsel in 1990. “He was as effective as he was ethical.”