LawCall - Courtroom

He who defends himself has a fool for a client, or so the saying goes. But one criminal defense attorney is the exception to the adage.

New Jersey attorney, Donald F. Manno, represented himself in a federal racketeering trial that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life. He credits a holy card of Saint Rita and his strong faith with his victory.

Manno says he has carried the holy card in his breast pocket for several years. Coincidentally, his wife’s name is Rita. He also credits his legal skills honed over several decades of practice.

The case, originally charged in 2011, included more than a dozen defendants including four other attorneys. It revolved around a claim that a publicly traded mortgage company, FirstPlus Financial Group, Inc., was bilked out of 12-million dollars by the defendants.

Manno says he decided to represent himself because he’s always felt that a jury should get to know the defendant.

“My defense was very simple: I was a criminal defense lawyer doing my job. And what better way to demonstrate that than [by doing] the job in front of the jury?”Manno told

The case against him relied on documents and secretly recorded conversations Manno argued were circumstantial and “misinterpreted.” He rehearsed his five-hour closing argument at home for two weeks, with family members as an audience.

In July, a jury convicted four of Manno’s codefendants; Manno and two other attorneys were acquitted.

When all is said and done, Manno is still trying to get his passport returned, has federal liens on his home, and has no clients. Still, and in spite of the government, whom Manno says is “very powerful”, he will continue to work.

The 68-year old says, “I’ll die with my boots on.”



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