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Spotlight Report

  Cardinal Bernard Law's personal lawyer, J. Owen Todd, center, enters court with attorney Wilson Rogers Jr., left, for the cardinal's deposition. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

Todd seen as deft advocate for many high-profile clients

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 5/9/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, confronting testimony under oath for the first time, has beefed up his legal team, recruiting as his personal attorney a former judge known as a deft, blunt advocate for high-profile clients facing treacherous legal terrain.

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Before Law raised his right hand and swore an oath in the civil case brought by alleged victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, J. Owen Todd introduced himself yesterday as the attorney for ''Cardinal Law personally.''

''He's very comfortable in this type of situation because he's a very vigorous advocate and a very experienced trial lawyer,'' said Arnold R. Rosenfeld, a Boston lawyer and former counsel for the Board of Bar Overseers. ''It depends on what the cardinal wants to accomplish here. If he wants to have a battle, I suppose Owen would be a good person to have.''

Michael E. Mone, who was a member of the judicial nominating panel that sent Todd's name to Governor Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, said Todd is among a handful of lawyers in Boston who many prominent people in trouble seek for immediate counsel.

''He knows how to go into court and protect his client's rights and, more important, he's a terrific adviser and the kind of person you need when you hope you don't end up in court,'' said Mone, a Boston lawyer.

Wilson Rogers Jr. is the lawyer for the archdiocese, but because Law himself was required to deliver sworn testimony, Mone said, Todd was recruited to protect the cardinal's personal legal interests along with Rogers.

''They probably wanted to separate the function of one person being there representing the corporation and someone else to represent the cardinal as an individual because the cardinal is being sued here as an individual,'' said Mone.

After his confirmation in the fall of 1988, Todd served on the superior court bench for more than three years before returning to the bar, going into practice with his son. Todd, a 1957 graduate of Harvard who got his law degree from Boston College, said he found the bench a sometimes isolating job.

''I felt sometimes like a hockey referee skating next to a player and thinking: `I used to do that,''' Todd told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly in 1996.

Since his return to practice, Todd, 66, has represented New Bedford Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy, who has been criticized by police and prosecutors who say he is far too lenient in sex offense cases; Gloucester District Court Judge David E. Harrison, who agreed to early retirement while under investigation by the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct; and former Boston Celtics forward Marcus Webb, who pleaded guilty in 1993 to sexually assaulting his former girlfriend.

In 2000, Governor Paul Cellucci named Todd to the State Ethics Commission, a post he quickly relinquished after it was discovered that the governor had named too many Republicans to the panel. Separately, critics said Todd was an improper choice for the ethics panel because at the time of his appointment he was giving legal help to a group seeking state and city support for a new Boston Red Sox stadium.

''He's well known for representing people with significant issues,'' said Boston lawyer Ellen Zack. ''There is an undercurrent of concern of personal liability here either criminally or civilly that could pose serious consequences for the cardinal if he's deemed to be subject to the same law as you or I. The more complicated, the more volatile the situation, the more you would want Owen Todd with you.''

Bill Litant, a former editor of Lawyers Journal, a bar association newspaper, said that while Todd is a strong First Amendment advocate, he is frequently irritated by what journalists choose to report and choose to ignore.

''He's going to say whatever he wants to say and he knows what he's doing,'' said Litant. ''He's very comfortable with himself.''

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 5/9/2002.
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