April 14, 2016

Scarface acquitted in ABA’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre mock trial

Historical fiction came to life onstage at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on Wednesday, more than eight decades after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where seven members of the North Side Irish/German gang led by George “Bugs” Moran were “rubbed out” in a Lincoln Park garage in February 14, 1929.  

Personal injury lawyer Robert Clifford portrays Al Capone in a mock trial of the notorious gangster presented by the ABA Section of Litigation.


Although no one was ever charged with the brutal crime, it is widely believed South Side Italian gang leader Al “Scarface” Capone masterminded the massacre.  The American Bar Association Section of Litigation gave the mobster his day in court to settle the case once and for all. 

Capone, played by personal injury lawyer Robert Clifford, was acquitted of the crime, despite the fact that one juror, former ABA President H. Thomas Wells Jr., proclaimed him, “Guilty as sin!” 

Two of the jurors, including Yale law professor Lawrence J. Fox, were not swayed by the testimony of FBI agent Eliot Ness, played by former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.  Since the jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict, real-life federal judge Virginia Kendall set Capone free—to go back to Alcatraz, where he was serving time for tax evasion.

Watch local press coverage of “The Trial of Al Capone” from WGN-TV and CBS-TV

The verdict capped an afternoon of testimony from a string of colorful characters including Frank Nitti, played by former U.S. District Court Chief Judge James F. Holderman; Capone’s fiercest rival, Bugs Moran, played by Tennessee litigator Danny Van Horn; William Bolton, an associate of the infamous Ma Barker, played by San Francisco litigator Laurence F. Pulgram, who is chair-elect of the section; and eyewitness Jeanette Landesman, played by Seton Hall University law professor Tiffany M. Williams.

Prosecutors’ roles were played by section members, former U.S. Prosecutor Anton R. Valukas, chair of Jenner & Block; Michael Pope, McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago; and Natalie J. Spears, head of Denton’s Global Technology Media and Telecommunications Section.  

Capone’s defense team included Paul Mark Sandler, chair of the general litigation group at Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler in Maryland; Eileen Letts, of Greene & Letts in Chicago; and Brad D. Brian, co-managing partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles.

Section Chair Steve Weiss of Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn produced the program.

The mock trial kicked off the Section of Litigation’s annual conference in Chicago from April 13–15, which brings together 1,000 litigators from across the country and features scores of programs, many of them focused on the latest in trial advocacy.