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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Lawyer With Rhyme and Reason

When the news broke in 2000, there was one man almost invariably on the scene.

Often just a step behind the cops and always in front of the cameras, smooth-talking lawyer Pavel Astakhov became a household name through his work on the year's most politically charged cases. Vigorously arguing in the court of public opinion as well as the court of law, he was able to draw attention to the plight of his clients — and at the same time to himself.

The case of media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky has made Astakhov, 34, one of the country's most well-known attorneys. This fall, he defended Edmond Pope, the American businessman convicted in December of spying and subsequently pardoned by President Vladimir Putin.

It was precisely his knack for public relations that gave Astakhov a leading role in the Gusinsky case. A regular participant in crime- and law-related shows on NTV, Astakhov was the first person Gusinsky's journalists called when they were in trouble.

"When on May 11, the attack on Media-MOST began [with a raid on the company's office], the guys from the NTV group who came to film it also ended up as hostages in the building. They managed to call me, explain the situation, and say that they needed help," Astakhov said in a recent interview at the Media-MOST headquarters.

"So I arrived like a fire squad at the first call for help. And right away the first comments to the media came from me. There were an enormous number of journalists, and I was basically the only lawyer who was able to get inside and witness this disgrace and comment on it, and interfere in the process. ? After that, after I had been so active, Igor Malashenko [deputy head of Media-MOST] asked me to join the [company's] small group of lawyers."

From that day on, Astakhov, a tall, broad-shouldered man who favors flashy designer suits, was regularly reporting to the public on the Media-MOST raid, Gusinsky's subsequent three-day imprisonment, the company's dispute with Gazprom and Gusinsky's arrest in Spain last month. Suddenly, Astakhov, who despite his television appearances was not widely known to the general public, was sharing air time with Genri Reznik, perhaps the country's best-known lawyer and a colleague on the Gusinsky defense team.

Upon graduation from the Higher School of the KGB in 1991, Astakhov went to work as legal counsel to an airline before passing the bar exam and becoming a trial lawyer in 1993.

"I felt that I was drawn toward defending people from the lawlessness going on," he said. "The only individual who can really defend people in our society is not the law enforcement agencies, not representatives of public organizations, not politicians or deputies, but the lawyer."

But prior to the Media-MOST and Pope cases, Astakhov had been avoiding criminal law, instead favoring inheritance, divorce and corporate cases.

"I stopped taking criminal cases because they are so trying," he said.

Astakhov sees himself as a man with a mission. Lawyers, he says, are "pioneers" who are "helping Russia move on to a new stage."

But courts today are highly politicized and criminal procedure is frequently ignored. This, says Astakhov, can make the work of a defense attorney a thankless task. In the Pope case, for example, the court delivered its 22-page verdict 2 1/2 hours after Pope's concluding statement — leading many observers to conclude it had been ready ahead of time.

Astakhov said that when he took Pope's case, his colleagues warned him against it.

"They said, 'Pasha, this is a hopeless case because everything has been pre-determined. … But nevertheless when they saw this case that was unfolding as the world watched, when every day, morning, noon and night, I made comments [to the media], when I showed the documents that we couldn't get included in the case and explained the motions that we filed — every day I filed from five to 10 motions. ... When I showed all of this to my colleagues, they were shocked. Genri Reznik said he was surprised that I was so prolific — squeezing everything out of the case down to the last drop."

But all but a handful of the approximately 200 defense motions in the Pope case, including requests for an independent translator and additional witnesses, were declined. So why did Astakhov bother?

"For history," he said.

"We have fresh examples in Russia of how verdicts that are 50 and 60 years old are overturned," he added, referring to the rehabilitation of former political prisoners of the Soviet regime. "I'm sure that this verdict will also be reconsidered in time."

Perhaps Astakhov's most unconventional move during the Pope case was his concluding remarks — which he read in verse. Some observers criticized the move as a sign of disrespect to the court.

But Astakhov defended his poem, saying it could not be considered a PR act since the trial was held behind closed doors.

"I wanted to reach the conscience of the lay assessors and the judge. And you know to be honest, I saw that I succeeded. I hammered a nail in their soul and conscience, so to speak, and they will always come back to this case," he said. "The thing is, if I had said what I said in the form of a poem in prose, they would have stopped me right away and criticized me for not respecting the court. Because I said horrible things from the point of view of procedure. ... But because I said it in verse, it wasn't really an insult."

Asked to read an excerpt, Astakhov thought for a moment and, in a low voice full of emotion, pronounced the final lines of the 12-page poem. (See box.)

"I didn't give anyone a written version of my speech," he said. "I've saved it for the future for a book."