An Audience with the Pope
Anthony Pope on the murder trial he had no business trying, working the Newark narcotics beat, and casting calls with Sidney Lumet
Published in 2013 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine
on March 15, 2013
Updated on October 2, 2019
Q: So you were once a police officer?
A: Yeah. I don’t think there was a younger detective in Newark ever. I was a detective at 21. … I came on the job at 19; I was in a radio car for about a year and a half, and I was promoted to detective in the narcotics squad and I worked undercover.
Q: Did you enjoy being a—
A: Cop? There are few things that are as exciting as being in a radio car in the city of Newark and working with a partner and every night not knowing what you’re going to be confronted with. It really tests you as a man.
You see another side of the city. You see another side of people.
Q: How did the law figure in?
A: After testifying in court and after seeing how lawyers interacted, I figured I could [be a lawyer]. I wanted to be a prosecutor. Then after a year and half as an assistant prosecutor … I really didn’t enjoy it. I felt that the Constitution and all of the liberties afforded us could be better served on the other end. I felt that certain people were treated differently in the law than others, so being born and raised in Newark, and being an inner-city guy and a former police officer … I just thought, “I want to get on the defense side.”
Q: And you represent cops.
A: It was a very easy segue.
I represented the police commissioner in Newark when he was indicted federally. It turned out to be a plea. [I had one case] in which a police officer was accused of raping someone in a radio car. He was acquitted. I had another case where a police officer was accused of shooting someone off duty. He was acquitted. I haven’t lost a civil rights case where I’ve represented a police officer who’s been accused of excessive force.
Do you know I’ve also done a lot of [legal] commentating?
Q: I just watched your Dr. Phil segment, where you gargled Listerine and then blew a .49 on a Breathalyzer.
A: I remember that. We were moving towards our own show that was supposed to be The Lawyers.
Q: What happened?
A: I had a holding contract with Channel 2 and then Comcast came in and bought Channel 4. Then Channel 4 picked it up, so it was put on hold. It was about a year and a half ago. I was hoping to be on network TV with the same producers that did The Doctors, if you’ve ever seen that. I’ve even done some acting. I’m a member of SAG.
I’ve produced a couple movies. I’ve been in a couple films. I was cast by Sidney Lumet in a series called 100 Centre Street. I had an interest in acting when I was in my 20s. I guess that’s why I’m a trial lawyer.
Q: What has been your most high-profile case?
A: The Continental air rage case.
[My client John Davis] was a lieutenant in the military. He was going with his family to Disney World. They were at Gate 115 in Continental Airlines and the plane was delayed. Angelo Sottile was the ticket agent.
They tried to start boarding. John Davis’ daughter ran towards the jetway and his wife went to get her, and Sottile pushed her away. John walked up and said, “Hey, listen, stop pushing my wife. We just want to get our daughter.”
This guy went to actually grab my client, and there were scrape marks on John Davis’ neck, from Angelo. When he tried to do that, my client basically spun him around and put him in a bear hug. What happened was Angelo Sottile, who was a soccer player, lifted him up and when he lifted him up, my guy’s on his back, he fell. When he fell down, the initial energy was dissipated by his left eye socket. He had an orbital fracture. We were able to show with a computer graphic that when somebody falls on top of you, the energy is dissipated at a certain level and that’s the first point of impact. The person behind you is actually hitting you and the pressure of that weight is coming upon you within about a tenth of a second.
Then my client’s weight hits [Sottile] and snapped his neck back and that’s what caused the vertebrae fractures. Whereas everybody kept saying that my guy lifted him up, threw him and pile-drove him into the ground like a wrestler. There were witnesses saying that he threw him out of the jetway 15 feet. The state paid about $10,000 for a dummy. They brought a dummy in for the witnesses to demonstrate how he threw Angelo Sottile in the air.
Their own doctor, on cross-examination, had to admit … I said, “Doctor, how possible is it? What kind of force is needed for this type of injury?” He said, “It’s a great deal of force. It would normally be an injury that you would think somebody was thrown out of a second floor window or somebody was hit by a car. To do this, it takes a lot of pressure.” The state said, “Well, isn’t it possible that somebody could throw someone in the air?” He said, “Well, it’s possible, yes.” I got him to admit that it wasn’t really likely.
I said [to the jury], “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got one witness says that he’s thrown 15 feet. You’ve got another witness that says they’re fighting and he’s punching him. You’ve got another witness that says he picked him up and pile-drove him: What story do you possibly believe?”
If you look at the 48 Hours or 60 Minutes tape, they interviewed the jurors. I told them, “Do you realize how hard it is to pick up a human being, flip them upside down and pile-drive them into the ground?” They tried it in the jury room. The guys were actually holding each other and trying to see how you could do that. They said, “You can’t.”
I was interviewed extensively after that acquittal. [Gordon] Bethune and I, the chairman of Continental Airlines, were going at it constantly in the paper. [Continental] felt that it was one of those cases that would [negatively] affect air travel. My client was really innocent. It was one of those situations where there were about 10 witnesses against him, but they were all just wrong.
Q: What skills carry over from your former career?
A: Being able to control your emotions. I’ve had cases where cameras follow me from the minute I get out of my car and it doesn’t affect me. My job is my job and I focus on representing my clients, and that’s something you learn from being a police officer because you’re called upon to make split-second decisions.
When I read for Sidney Lumet, I went into his office in New York and I just did it. He said to me, “Anthony, it’s interesting to me. I see that you’ve been in a couple things, but you walked in here with a comfort level that I rarely see unless someone’s a seasoned actor.” So I told Sidney Lumet, “No disrespect here, I love your work.” I mean, he directed 12 Angry Men. “When I do it in real life, I get one shot to do it. I don’t have the opportunity to say ‘cut,’ ‘redo it,’ ‘cut,’ like you do. That’s not real.” He started laughing and said, “You’re right.”
I don’t get freaked. You can’t spook me. I attribute that a lot to being a police officer.
I’ve had to pull my weapon many times. In the narcotics squad I worked undercover, so to go out into the streets … most people are never confronted with those types of situations.
Q: Tell me about your first defense trial.
A: It was a murder case. I had no business trying it.
It’s a 17-year-old who’s waived up as an adult, and he’s caught by the Newark Police Department driving a brand new Cadillac and he’s got a gold wristwatch on of a guy who was found dead in his apartment three days before.
He gives a 14-page statement that he robbed and he murdered the guy. They come in; they retain me: “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” I said, “Well, you’ve got a 14-page statement says you did. You’re driving the guy’s Cadillac. You’ve got his gold wristwatch.”
The guy finally admits he had run away from his family. They were Ecuadorians, really good people, and his position was this guy was giving him cocaine in exchange for sex, and he decided he wanted to leave and the guy wouldn’t let him leave, and [my client] pulled a knife and he defended himself. Now you’ve got to remember, I’m just an associate. I’m the last name on the letterhead and the partners are going, “What the hell is Anthony doing with this kid?”
I go to trial and I show that [in] the pictures of the crime scene, there’s no forced entry. I said to the detective, “Detective, this apartment was not broken into, right?” He said, “Well, no. We saw no signs of forced entry.” “The drawers,” I said, “was anything rifled through?” “Well, no, nothing was rifled through.” I said, “I’ve got a picture here of the victim on the ground dead. Does he still have a gold chain around his neck?” He says, “Yeah.” I said, “That’s very interesting for a robbery, isn’t it? I don’t know. I’m confused. Maybe it’s just me, but was it a selective robbery? Did he pick and choose what gold was the best? How did he get into the apartment?” “Well, he could have knocked on the door. He could have said it was a pizza delivery.” I said, “Yeah, he could have done a lot of those things.”
My guy takes the witness stand, and he’s on the stand for four hours and he’s crying his eyes out: “I let him have sex with me.” I said, “Why would you admit to robbery and murder?” He said, “It was easier to say [that] than I let this man have sex with me. That was [worse] than saying that I killed him.” He was acquitted.
Q: The people you defend are often seen as the bad guy. And you used to arrest the bad guy. What’s that dichotomy like?
A: It’s never black and white. It’s gray and the shades are innumerable. You know why I don’t believe in the death penalty? Forget about the moral issue. The one issue that nobody can dispute, I don’t care who you are: The death penalty is the final act of punishment. Can anybody disagree with that? No. Can you disagree with the fact that our judicial system is imperfect? No. If you have an imperfect system, why would you ever impose the ultimate penalty?
I’m not a bleeding heart liberal. I’m conservative in some ways. I’m liberal in others. I’m a registered independent voter. I don’t ascribe to anyone’s particular political philosophy, but that’s the biggest argument for me. You have a judicial system—although it’s the best that exists—it’s imperfect. I think it was Churchill that said “the best of an imperfect system.”
That’s why people have been let out of jail. That’s why there are appellate courts. Jurors make mistakes. When you make a mistake, you can let somebody out after 18 years. The most precious commodity we have in life is time. Think about that. How important is it to stop somebody from going to jail if they’re not guilty? You can get everything in the world back if you work hard enough, but you can’t get your time back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Q: What’s your courtroom style?
A: Well, I’m not melodramatic. Am I theatrical? Absolutely.
Q: I wouldn’t have guessed.
A: [Laughs] Am I animated? Am I expressive? If I’m cross-examining someone and I’ve made a point, do I look at that jury? When I’m giving an opening or a summation, am I looking at every single juror? Am I coming in with charts and PowerPoint? Am I highlighting things that I think are most important? Am I giving examples or metaphors to try to explain more fully to jurors to appreciate? Yeah, absolutely.
You have to because the average person’s going to just shut off after about 17 minutes. You have to hold their attention. You do that by talking for a while and then showing them something. You do that sitting in the witness box and saying, “Do you remember when this person said X, Y and Z?”
I think it’s a stage. The difference, as I told Sidney Lumet, is that it’s for real.