Stories about attorney Joe Friedberg are legend.
Time to hear some of them on the record from the horse’s mouth. So if it may please courts everywhere — especially those on which basketball continues to be played despite his beloved Tar Heels’ getting bounced from March Madness by Iowa State — here’s a Q&A with one of the USA’s Super Lawyers.
In my startribune.com/video, you can even see how Friedberg has his toenails painted every November in support of his alma mater, the University of North Carolina.
I told Friedberg that while editing the video I fell in love with the sartorial statement his attire made, in a way that it did not strike me the day we taped this interview.
“Wait a minute,” he shot back Friday. “You once told me that I made a $2,500 suit look like a $250 suit.”
I thought he was looking better because he started taking fashion advice from Carolyn, his wife of 51 years.
She told me she has no input on work clothes. He selects the fabric for his suits and shirts and she has never even bought him a tie. She only buys him jeans and underwear, which she reports are very nice.
Q: You answer the phone at your law offices?
A: Yeah, especially if there’s nobody else to answer it. If I’m sitting at my desk, the phone rings and Carolyn doesn’t pick it up, I [do]. I don’t like to seem remote from people. Many, many years ago I either heard or read an article about the president of United States Steel, who occasionally sat at the greeting desk and answered the telephone. I’ve thought it was a good idea.
Q: Tell me why you choose to be a faithful husband?
A: The first reason is that I love my wife. The second reason is that I couldn’t live with the guilt of not being faithful. Nobody knows for a fact that you’re faithful. I think I’ve got that reputation, but I am and couldn’t consider being any other way. A lot of people around who I know aren’t; I couldn’t live with that lie.
Q: Do you ever talk to friends who are being unfaithful about their behavior?
A: Not about that. If that’s how they choose to live, that’s fine.
Q: You’ve been pulled over on suspicion of DWI?
A: I’ve been pulled over twice. I’ve been pulled over in Florida, on New Year’s Eve in the mid-’80s and about three years ago I was pulled over in Kentucky. The one in Florida had irony to it because it was after midnight and I’m driving from where we were to the condo. I was having trouble following the road signs. There’s no question I was changing lanes. Just as I turned into our place, the highway patrolman or deputy pulled up behind me and came up to me and said, Have you been drinking, sir? I started laughing, which is one of the signs of drunkenness. And he said, Why do you think this is funny? I said: “Had you stopped me on any other New Year’s Eve, you would have scored. I can’t remember being sober on a New Year’s Eve before, but I had a brain tumor out about two months ago and I can’t drink yet.” And he said, Well, you were all over the road. I said, “Those lines in the road are like a board game.” He said, They are a little difficult. I was pulled over three years ago in Lexington, Ky., about 1 a.m. because I had a rental car that didn’t have automatic lights, so I didn’t turn the lights on — one of the classic signs of drunkenness. The guy pulled me over, he was training a rookie, and asked if I had had anything to drink. For reasons I can’t justify, I answered his questions and I know better. I said “Yes, I have. One and a half glasses of bourbon on the rocks.” And he said, Why the half glass? I said, “Because I know when I’ve had enough.” I got out and went through all the tests and I said, “Please give me the Breathalyzer because I know I’m under.” After going through the protocol, he gave me the Breathalyzer and he held it wrong when he took it away from me. I could see it read .025. When he’s showing it to the rookie, he said You’re just under .035. First of all, “just under” is silly. Second, he lied to me. Not only that, he taught the rookie to lie. Ultimately, he let me go. He said [to Carolyn], Why don’t you drive home? She said, No way; I can’t see at night and I’ve had more than he has. Those are my only two.
Q: Have you ever represented someone who, when you got them in private, you called a Dumb Criminal to their face?
A: Very frequently. There have been any number of cases over the years where I’ve said to people: “Look, we’ll represent you, but if you’re going to continue this life of crime, you have to improve. You’re not very good at it.” I represented a guy who was in the workhouse and he stole the workhouse garbage truck. Drove it to a liquor store and continued on his way out Hwy. 55, drinking vodka and driving the workhouse truck in an orange jumpsuit.
Q: Have you ever been slapped on the behind by an athlete client?
Q: Did that Florida judge overreact to Chad Ochocinco slapping his lawyer on the behind?
A: Without a doubt. She ought to come into the world. That was ridiculous.
Q: Do you think Chad Ochoidiot was told what to wear to court and made the brilliant decision to wear a short-sleeve shirt and no coat and tie?
A: I doubt it. I think that what was going to happen that day was pretty well determined. If your client has half a brain, you don’t bother to tell them what to wear.
Q: Do you tell your clients what to wear to court?
A: From time to time. If they are going to trial, you tell them what to wear. They should wear what they look comfortable in. If my clients are younger, I try to make them dress like a college student: khakis, sweater, maybe a tie. If they are older, a suit and tie.
Q: Where is your TV commercial?
A: What television commercial? Noo, I don’t have a television commercial. You really stopped me in my tracks. Criminal defense lawyers for the most part don’t. I think they’re effective for personal injury guys. Without knowing, I just don’t think they are particularly effective for criminal cases.
Q: Have you ever actually chased an ambulance?
A: Yes. No, I chased a fire engine. I’ve made a lot of jokes about it. If I’m sitting out some night with friends in front of a restaurant and an ambulance goes by, I say “I’ve got to go.”
Q: Do you notice people on the street looking askance when you are representing a client who has done something particularly bad?
A: No. I’m not sure I’d notice that anyway. I do hear reactions on talk radio.
Q: What criminal case that has been in the news would you have wanted no part of had you gotten the call?
A: I don’t think that case exists.
Q: If you get into legal trouble, which colleagues will you call first?
A: I’ve got so many friends who are so qualified — Earl Gray, Bill Mauzy, Peter Wold.
Q: How many horses have you owned?
A: Over 100. [Right now he owns] five yearlings, three horses at the racetrack.
Q: How much money have you lost betting on the horses?
A: I don’t think I’ve lost much. I don’t bet a lot anymore. I believe I’ve probably won money betting on horses. It’s not a system so much as using data by a company. They not only time every horse in every race, they [note] the velocity of the wind …
Q: As a human, can we really know how much it hurts racehorses to be whipped just to make them run faster?
A: No, we can’t know that. But you’ve got to remember something. They don’t have skin, they have hides. It does look like it hurts, but I don’t think it does and I don’t think they care about it. In England they have a rule that you can’t hit them over three times. In this country, we have a rule against hitting them unnecessarily.
I don’t think it’s a big issue. Drugs are a much bigger issue.
Q: There’s a picture of Dark Star on your desk. What do you miss most about him?
A: Being able to talk to him. I enjoyed being around him. Dark was always in a good mood, which I’m not. For me, it was a lot of fun to call Dark after a ballgame or horse race. By the way, he was one of the worst handicappers in history. No, he didn’t [know that] but he was bad. Much better sports bettor than he was a horse bettor. Just a great guy. I enjoyed being around him. He was always up. He had a great fund of knowledge about music, sports.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J., try firstname.lastname@example.org and to see her, watch Fox 9’s “Buzz.”