Roger writing the LAWmag
14
Jan 2012

One Attorney's Fatal Attraction: The Bra, The Felon and the Drug Smuggling

Only in America?

Jennifer Ridha is named as an attorney who smuggled drugs to her felon/client in prison, using her bra for the purpose.

She was charged but got nuthin' - a slap on the wrist for this most egregious conduct, conduct that brings the entire profession into disrepute.

Fatal Attraction

Lost in the celebrity headlines of the 4-½ year sentence given to Cameron Douglas, the son of actor Michael Douglas, in late December of 2011, was the astonishing revelation by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that a "lawyer" had smuggled drugs into prison for Douglas in her bra.

Cameron Douglas is a drug addict. For three years, 2006 to 2009, he sold drugs and got himself hooked on heroine and cocaine. Once charged, he was released on bond and place under house arrest at his mother's house.

attorney braBut his then-girlfriend was caught trying to smuggle drugs to him into the mother's house - apparently whittled into tooth brushes - so Douglas' bond was revoked and he was incarcerated until trial.

In April of 2010, he was given a sentence considered lenient by most observers, a five-year prison sentence to be served at the Federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In that case, he was represented by the New York City law firm of Lankler, Siffert & Wohl.

According to the London daily newspaper, the Daily Mail:

"It was after this arrest that he said he 'got into a relationship' with his lawyer.

"The two shared clandestine kisses behind bars and she used a balloon to smuggle dozens of Xanax anti-anxiety pills into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan, according to the New York Post.

"'From what I can remember, I saw her take it out of her bra,' Douglas said.

"The 32-year-old said the relationship continued even after he was sent to a prison in Pennsylvania, where he told her to lie on an official form so she could continue to visit him.

"Though he has never named the lawyer, sources identified her as Jennifer Ridha who at the time worked for the firm of Lankler, Siffert & Wohl."

Jennifer Ridha, 35, was one of the female lawyers at Lankler, Siffert & Wohl who acted for Douglas between April 2009 and May 2010. Ms Ridha visited her client frequently and the evidence later suggested that she developed a crush on her celebrity client.

Once squeezed by prosecutors, Cameron Douglas squealed on his drug suppliers and ratted on his lawyer, Ms Ridha.

Jennifer R. Ridha graduated from Columbia Law where she was an editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. She clerked for Judge R. Guy Gole Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit.

She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 2000 and that of New York in 2004. Her first employment in New York was with the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.

In 2004, she published The Trouble with the Tribunal - Saddam Hussein and the Elusiveness of Justice, at 232 Middle East Report of Washington, DC, and in which she is described as an "Iraqi-American lawyer".

Once Douglas dropped the bomb to law enforcement, Ms Ridha was investigated, arrested in January of 2011, and confessed to the serious crimes.

Astonishingly, she managed a phenomenal plea agreement with the District Attorney, the equivalent of a conditional discharge which leaves her with no criminal record and all charges against her dropped in July of 2011 - an amazing job for her defense lawyer Fred Hafetz at Hafetz Necheles & Rocco.

Hafetz has moxie: he justified the "sentence" to the New York Post by describing Ridha as:

"... an outstanding young attorney"!

The jaw-dropping sentence was described by the New York Criminal Lawyers Blog in these words:

"Prosecutors have some general discretion on who they go after. It's usually based on the strength of their case, but as Jennifer Ridha admitted to smuggling drugs to Cameron Douglas, it's hard to imagine a stronger drugs smuggling case. The unique circumstances that led to prosecutors dropping the case were not revealed…."

Whatever Happened to Jennifer R. Ridha?

The Columbia Law school listed a "J. Ridha" as professor of legal practice for the 2010-2011 school year. An empty profile page identifies her as lecturer in law, and is at http://www.law.columbia.edu/courses/browse/instructor?global.f_id=16756.

According to the California State Bar member directory, the work address for Jennifer Ridha, member #209263, is the St. John's University School of Law in Queen's, New York.

Other hints of her whereabouts point to St. John's. Indeed, one law school document available on the Internet in early January 2012 listed her as:

"Research Professor and Fellow of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development…. "

The Center includes on its steering committee, law professors, distinguished practising lawyers, justice of courts of law and:

Jennifer Ridha
Research Professor and Senior Fellow
Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development
St. John’s School of Law

She is also on the faculty list to teach young law students criminal law!

Dumb and Dumber

Things did not work out so well for her former client.

On December 21, 2011, Cameron Douglas was sentenced to an additional one half years in prison beyond the five years he is already serving for his drug offenses.

But Cameron Douglas has had a life of wealth and privilege, his to throw away as he has chosen. Ridha has been brought through the rigours of law school, articles, clerkship and practise with well-known law firms. She has been inculcated with legal ethics for years prior to her call. Consider:

  • She was no rookie at the time of her conduct.
  • She appears to have befriended her client beyond a client-solicitor relationship.
  • She procured the drugs.
  • She violated her duty to her employer and soiled their name in the process.
  • She misused her status as an attorney to gain entry into a prison.
  • She did not come forward voluntarily but made admissions only after she was caught.

There is no possible excuse or justification - short of narcolepsy - for her egregious behaviour in smuggling drugs to a felon in prison even while she had those access rights only because she was a member of the fine profession of law, a profession which is marked, now, not only by her conduct, but also by the response of the justice system to that conduct, not even a slap on the wrist; conduct which cries out for disbarment.

One may be able to justify the result that she escaped a prison term. One may even make a arguable case that she deserved no fine. Ultimately, when the truth behind the plea agreement leaks out, one may even reluctantly concede a conditional discharge.

But to embrace her back into the fold of law?

The bar to disbarment has been lowered to a ridiculous level and a disconcerting message is sent to all young lawyers, many with a moral compass which is still a work-in-progress.

The public, of course, wants to know how many Jennifer Ridhas are the out there behind the shingle of Attorney-at-Law. Because of her actions and of those who signed-off on the plea agreement, that shingle means less than it did before.

St. John's University School of Law is tight-lipped about Ms Ridha:

"Although Jennifer Ridha was an employee of St. John's University, she is currently on administrative leave and will remain so until her two-year term as a Research Professor concludes at the end of this academic year. We can't comment any further because it is University policy to not comment on personnel matters due to our employees' rights to privacy."

We replied:

"Thank you so much. I would really, really like to write that your university was unaware of the events surrounding Ms Ridha and Mr. Douglas at the time of hire, and that she has no contact with students. Can you confirm either or both of those latter statements?"

The University's last communication:

"We would like to be able to confirm both of those latter statements. But, unfortunately, we can't do so and still be consistent with the University's policy of not commenting on personnel matters."

REFERENCES:

Thanks to Sam Benson for reporting a typo in this article.

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