Plato Cacheris, one of the nation’s preeminent criminal defense lawyers and a member of Leadership 100, will address the 25th Anniversary Celebration Conference at The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Carolina, Puerto Rico, February 5 to 8, 2008.
A 1956 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, Cacheris served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1951 to 1953, and began his legal career at the U.S. Department of Justice. Subsequently, he established himself as an outstanding criminal defense lawyers, representing clients in some of the nation’s most heavily publicized cases, including Watergate and Iran-contra. He also represented Monica Lewinsky during the investigation and impeachment trial of President Clinton.
The son of a Greek immigrant, who came to co-own a restaurant chain, he attributes his interest in the law to his admiration for a friend of his father’s, Achilles Catsonis, who was also a Greek immigrant and a well-respected lawyer in Washington. But his first ambition was to be a foreign service officer. Actually, he wanted to be Ambassador to Greece. Ironically, his best friend from high school, Robert Keeley, did become Ambassador to Greece.
The Cacheris family moved to Washington from Pittsburgh when he was in the seventh grade. He graduated from Western High School, which is now Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, in 1947 and enrolled in the Foreign Service School at Georgetown. He planned on taking the foreign service exam after his senior year, but by early summer he was in the Marines. The Korean War broke out in June of 1950. He graduated in 1951 and was therefore eligible for the draft. He enlisted in the Marines officer candidate program.
While in the Marines he learned about the GI Bill, which would take the burden of his education off his father if he went on to law school. By this time he had changed his mind about going into the foreign service. As a Marine, he served as defense counsel in special courts-martial. One was not required to be a lawyer to represent defendants at this level. This encouraged him to go on to law school.
After graduating from law school, he went to work for the U.S. Department of Justice as a prosecutor. He thought that would be a good way to get into court quickly and get experience doing trials. At Department of Justice, he met Bill Hundley, who became his longtime partner. Then, after three years, he went to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
He joined Bill Hundley in 1970, beginning the firm of Hundley & Cacheris, which lasted until 1987. “Edward Bennett Williams was the premier criminal lawyer in Washington at that time. Hundley had a special relationship with Williams. In those days the big law firms scorned criminal work. So when Williams had a conflict, or a case that he couldn’t take, he would call Hundley and refer it to us,” explained Cacheris.
Among the headline cases handled by the firm was Watergate. John Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney General, engaged Hundley to defend him. Due to the magnitude of the case, Cacheris also worked on Watergate, participating in the Senate committee hearings, the criminal trial before Judge Sirica, and the impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee.
“By the time we went to trial, we’d been through the Senate hearings, so the principal witnesses had all testified. Of course, the prosecution had the White House tapes to buttress their case. The trial itself was predictable. It ended with the conviction of President Nixon’s close associates, including John Mitchell,” said Cacheris.
In the Iran-contra case, Cacheris represented Fawn Hall, who was Oliver North’s secretary. He succeeded in getting her immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. She testified both before the Iran-contra committee on Capitol Hill and at Oliver North’s trial that she had, in fact, destroyed documents.
For Cacheris, the Aldrich Ames espionage case was a very serious matter. Ames was a CIA employee accused of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union and giving the Soviets the names of CIA assets operating in Russia. He negotiated a plea arrangement in which Ames’ wife received a five-year sentence and he was given life. She has since served her time and is out now, which is the way Ames wanted it. He also represented Robert Hanssen, FBI agent and secret spy for the Soviet Union, working out a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid the death penalty in exchange for revealing all his activities to the government, but not to the public.
Cacheris joined Dunnells, Duval, Bennett & Porter in 1987, but then decided to go back out on his own. He later formed Trout Cacheris, where he currently practices.