My Favorite Lawyer Moment

By Jack Limpert

While editing The Washingtonian from 1969 to 2009, I had one really tough year—it was 1989 and we were hit with two lawsuits. The magazine then was at its most profitable, averaging 332 pages each month. Were we a legal target because we looked so successful, was it because we were doing good journalism, or were we not paying enough attention to the legal risks that are part of  journalism?

Looking back, the answer is probably yes to all three questions.

The most expensive of the lawsuits was filed by Jack Kent Cooke. Jack had made a billion dollars in cable television and he bought a majority stake in the Washington Redskins in 1974, becoming sole owner in  1985. He was a character—colorful, bombastic, very full of himself. With Joe Gibbs coaching the Redskins, he’d won Super Bowls in 1981 and 1987 and was riding high.

But he did have woman problems. In 1988, at the age of 74, he went to the altar for the third time, marrying  Suzanne Martin, then 31. Soon there was a baby, Jacqueline, and then a divorce. In August 1988 we ran a cover story by Kitty Kelley about Suzanne’s life with Jack. Suzanne supplied Kitty with the kind of details that would drive any man crazy. In December 1989 we ran another story, “Driving Mr. Cooke,” in which his  onetime chauffeur disclosed some dirt about what it was like working for Jack. This was followed by a lawsuit.

It would take 10,000 words to capture the drama and cost of  that lawsuit. Jack seemed more interested in making our life miserable than in any settlement.

The favorite legal moment: We were taking the deposition of Marlene Cooke, also known as the Bolivian bombshell, who had become Jack’s fourth wife. On one side of a long table I sat with Sam Wood, our attorney. On the other side were Marlene, Jack, and six lawyers, including Milton Gould, the name partner of Shea & Gould, a prominent New York firm. Among the other five lawyers was Washington’s leading African-American lawyer. Sam, our lone lawyer, was in his 30s and had a boyish look

As we were taking a noon break from the deposition, the stenographer turned off her machine and, as we started to get up, Jack said, “Mr. Wood, my friends in Baltimore tell me you have been educated beyond your intelligence.”

Without missing a beat, Sam said, “Mr. Cooke, my friends in Washington tell me you’re an asshole.”
An editor’s note: A longer version of this story was posted last January and seems timely now that Dan Snyder, who succeeded Jack Kent Cooke as Washington Redskins owner, has fired yet another coach after yet another losing season. Mr. Cooke—most everyone called him that—may have been full of himself but he knew what he didn’t know. He was good at making money in cable TV but he knew he didn’t know how to win NFL games so he hired Bobby Beathard, a savvy general manager, and Joe Gibbs, a great coach, and let them do their jobs. Snyder, who like Mr. Cooke is sometimes considered an asshole, seems incapable of learning that.

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