L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta defamation attorney, was supposed to contain the damage Herman Cain’s Republican presidential bid sustained as a result of sexual harassment allegations.
Instead, Wood may have contributed to the opposite, when he chose to chide the news media on Nov. 28 for covering an “accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults” while his client was saying Ginger White, who claimed a 13-year affair with Cain, was just a friend.
“It is inconceivable to me that a candidate and his attorney aren’t on the same page,” said Michael Robinson, senior vice president at Levick Strategic Communications in Washington, which specializes in crisis public relations. “The real problem here is that it makes people -- otherwise known as voters -- disbelieve the Cain brand.”
For Wood, 59, his representation of Cain is the latest turn in a career seeded in tragedy and capped by a series of high-profile victories in cases captured in national headlines, including the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombing and an intern’s 2001 murder in Washington.
In an interview, Wood said his statement on Cain had been misread and was intended to convey two points: that White’s assertions are “false allegations” and that the media shouldn’t pry into candidate’s private lives. “I believe Herman Cain. The public will decide who to believe,” Wood said.
‘Both From Georgia’
Cain’s campaign said yesterday that the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive officer is reassessing his candidacy. Cain, 65, hired Wood “because they are both from Georgia,” said J.D. Gordon, Cain’s spokesman said, refusing to elaborate on the relationship.
Wood represented John Ramsey after he and his late wife, Patsy, were implicated by the police and media in the death of their six-year-old daughter, JonBenet. He also was retained by Richard Jewell, who was called a suspect by law enforcement and the media in the Olympic bombing.
Gary Condit, a former California Democratic congressman, hired Wood to sue the late columnist Dominick Dunne for libel after Dunne insinuated on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that Condit was involved in the disappearance of his intern, Chandra Levy.
Jewell was cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of any involvement in the bombing and libel settlements were reached with CNN and NBC. Litigation with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding its coverage of Jewel is in its 15th year. Condit’s suit against Dunne was settled for an undisclosed amount, said Wood.
He also negotiated agreements on behalf of the Ramseys with tabloid publisher American Media Inc. and book publisher St. Martin’s Press, Ramsey said.
During the years of libel litigation, “Lin got in more than a few shouting matches,” Ramsey, 67, said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas.
When Condit was searching for a lawyer, a Georgia congressman suggested Wood, describing the attorney as “a junkyard dog,” Condit, 63, said.
“He is attractive and presents well on camera which means a lot these days. You ignore the media at your peril,” said Chip Babcock, a libel attorney who represents Oprah Winfrey. “Lin’s presence means there’s no free shots.”
Wood’s path toward a legal career began in the early hours of March 29, 1969, in Macon, Georgia. The 16-year-old arrived home from a high school party and “knew something was wrong because the door was open,” Wood said in an interview from his downtown office conference room.
A Tragic Beginning
What he found was the culmination of years of alcoholism and domestic violence. His mother lay dead on the bed, beaten to death. His father, drunk and unaware he’d killed his wife, was wetting washcloths to put on his wife’s wounds.
“I told him to keep putting cloths on my mother while I called the ambulance,” Wood said. “I went and called the police.”
The teenager then raised funds to hire a defense attorney for his father, who ultimately served three years for manslaughter in Georgia state prisons. “I wanted to make sure he had competent counsel,” Wood said.
In high school, Wood was editor-in-chief of the newspaper and pitched on the baseball team, he said. He put himself through undergraduate and law school at Mercer University with scholarships, student loans and various jobs, including working as a hospital ward supervisor and nursing assistant.
Following law school graduation in 1977, Wood built a reputation as a medical malpractice attorney. It was the Olympic bombing case that brought him national prominence.
Jewell hired Wood after a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution compared the private Olympic security guard to convicted killer Wayne Williams, who was suspected of killing some 20 children.
The animosity between Wood and the newspaper’s attorney, Peter Canfield, grew so intense that Wood recalls arguing face-to-face with Canfield. He said their noses were touching and “all I could think was how soft his nose was.”
Canfield, who also represents Bloomberg News, countered in a phone interview: “He never touched my nose and I’ve never touched his, nor would I want to.”
Their antagonism prompted the judge to turn cameras normally trained on witnesses on to the two attorneys to monitor their behavior.
Settlements in Millions
The court made two rulings that nearly ended the case: that Jewell was a public figure for a limited time and that there was no finding of malice. After losing an appeal this summer, Wood now is asking the Georgia state Supreme Court to hear the case.
He won’t say how much money he’s secured for his clients or how much he has personally earned. Total settlements are in the millions, he said. He and his wife, Debby, have lived in the same two-story brick house, which bears the scars of raising four children, for 24 years. One obvious show of opulence is Wood’s $140,000 charcoal gray Maserati.
Canfield attributes Wood’s successes to a knack for publicity. “He’s a paper tiger,” he said. “He’s a good promoter.”
Condit holds a different view. He said a dozen lawyers, some nationally known, turned down his case because public officials are required to meet a higher legal standard of proof of defamation and libel. Wood was the only one he contacted who thought he could win, Condit said.
Wood’s desire to win isn’t confined to the courtroom.
He spent 15 years managing a senior league baseball team, recruiting retired minor league players to help the team’s chances.
He has been married to Debby Jamison Wood, his fourth wife, for 24 years. She taught him to ride horses while pregnant with their first child.
In 2003, riding a six-foot-tall horse with the show name She Humbles Me, Wood beat his 12-year-old daughter at a Hunter-Jumper horse show.
That horse, Debby Wood said, “is the only thing that ever humbled that man in his life.”