Washington’s Billy Martin, considered one of the top defense attorneys in the country. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)
You can’t just walk into Billy Martin’s law firm, Martin & Gitner. You have to be buzzed in. It’s a K Street address after all, home to some of the most well-known and well-respected law firms in the country.
Once inside the double glass doors and beyond the L-shaped reception desk with granite countertops, you’ll find Martin, 65, down the hall looking very corporate in a gray suit and red tie.
His eighth-floor office is cluttered: Binders, backpacks and books about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and wrongful executions rest on the windowsill. A putter, chipping cup and ball are propped in a corner. A book about the late Ted Stevens, the former Republican senator from Alaska, sits on an Indonesian-designed coffee table near a seen-better-days mauve love seat.
His walls and desk are crammed with photos: a smiling Martin and his wife, NPR journalist Michel Martin, on their wedding day; the two hiking on their Hawaiian honeymoon; and countless snapshots of their 11-year-old twins, Aminah and William Jr.
There are other photos, including one of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But most are, well, of Martin. Martin with former Washington Wizards player Juwan Howard , whom he represented in a 1998 sexual assault case in Montgomery County. Martin questioning a witness at the Charlotte sentencing of boxer Riddick Bowe, who had kidnapped and stabbed his wife (Martin’s mentor, the late Johnnie Cochran, is looking on). Martin a decade ago after being named one of Washingtonian magazine’s top D.C. lawyers.
“I’m usually in it every year,” he says unapologetically. “I’m one of the most recognized lawyers in America, and I know that I’m one of the most recognized African American lawyers in the country.”
It sounds like unbridled arrogance, but Martin’s client roster would make agents drool: bad boys of the NFL, NBA and NHL. Big-name actors and politicians. Martin is the go-to attorney when you’re in trouble — real trouble. Facing-significant-prison-time trouble. He’s the lawyer people hire to get less time, when the evidence is stacked against them.
According to those who have seen him in action, he’s brilliant at trial, particularly with opening statements and connecting with a jury.
“When I was a clerk and went to the Public Defender’s Services, I wanted to be like Billy,” says Errol R. Arthur, now a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge. “As a young attorney, you think, ‘Wow, if I could just get to that level.’ ”
Attorney General Eric Holder describes him as “sophisticated” and a “good tactician.”
“He’s the kind of person to present the client with a factual, realistic determination of what the situation looks like, and that takes guts, particularly when they’re paying you,” says Holder, who has worked with Martin on several cases. “He can convince clients that the lawyer knows best.”
Martin is the modern-day Johnnie Cochran, minus the bling and the brashness, but with swag intact.
As he arrived at D.C. Superior Court one day last July, Martin patted two male courthouse workers on their backs while en route to the downstairs lockup to confer with his latest NFL client, Fred Davis, then 28. The former Redskins player was in court to face charges of domestic violence after a girlfriend said he threw dirt and flowers at her during an argument at an Adams Morgan diner that summer.
It was Davis’s third run-in with authorities in four months. (The NFL suspended him last February for violating its substance-abuse policy, and the next day he was charged with driving while intoxicated in Fairfax County. Those charges were dismissed at trial.)
After a 20-minute private briefing with Davis, Martin went upstairs to Courtroom 119 to wait for the case to be called.
“Lockup number 62,” the clerk announced.
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