As for defending the conservative 45th president, “you wouldn’t put me in that category ordinarily,” said Schoen, who considers himself first and foremost a civil rights lawyer.
Just last year, Schoen successfully filed suit to get presidential candidate Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation on the ballot in the District of Columbia. For decades, Schoen has represented the poor and the powerless in civil rights litigation across the South and has, free of charge, taken on death penalty cases, trying to win new trials for condemned inmates.
In one civil rights case decades ago, Schoen, representing emotionally disturbed children, got a federal judge to strike down Alabama’s foster care system as unconstitutional. Just recently, he obtained a settlement for the estate of Phillip Anderson, who died in 2015 at the Tuscaloosa County Jail of a perforated ulcer. The lawsuit contended jail staff ignored and belittled Anderson’s repeated pleas and screams of pain in the days before he died.
“He’s a hell of a lawyer,” Phillip Fikes, one of Anderson’s children, said of Schoen. “He wouldn’t give up. It was great getting to know him, and I feel like he did the best he could for us.”
In 1995, the American Bar Association recognized Schoen’s legal work by presenting him its Pro Bono Publico Award.
Schoen, who sits on the board of the Zionist Organization of America, has represented families whose relatives died from terrorist attacks in Israel. In 2017, he helped moderate a United Nations panel on the glorification of terrorism. He has also been an active member of the Jewish community in Atlanta.
More recently, Schoen represented Trump’s longtime confidant, Roger Stone, after he was convicted of making false statements, witness-tampering and obstruction in the Robert Mueller investigation. Trump ended up commuting Stone’s prison sentence last summer and granting him a full pardon in December.
Schoen also met with financier Jeffrey Epstein at the Manhattan jail for several hours nine days before Epstein’s death on Aug. 1, 2019. Because Epstein appeared eager to fight his sexual assault convictions, Schoen has questioned whether his client really committed suicide, as determined by the New York City medical examiner’s office.
“I don’t know what happened, but he didn’t seem to me to be someone who would kill himself,” Schoen said.
One of Schoen’s first moves for the impeachment trial was to inform Senate leaders that he strictly adheres to the Jewish Sabbath. He requested the trial be suspended from sunset at 5:24 p.m. on Friday until Sunday.
“I apologize for the inconvenience my request that impeachment proceedings not be conducted during the Jewish Sabbath undoubtedly will cause other people involved in the proceedings,” Mr. Schoen wrote. “The practices and prohibitions are mandatory for me, however.”
A spokesman for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the Senate would grant Schoen’s request.
On Monday, however, Schoen withdrew his request. He said that while he will not participate on Saturday, his role in the proceedings will be covered.
In his telephone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Schoen said he is not representing Trump with plans to argue that fraudulent voting cost him reelection. “I’m not in this case for that,” he said.
Instead, Schoen said he finds two constitutional issues raised by the trial to be extremely important.
“First, there is the question of whether you can have an impeachment trial of a president after he’s left office,” he said. “I don’t believe you can and we will be arguing against it.”
The other important issue, Schoen said, is whether Trump’s words at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the assault on the Capitol are protected by the First Amendment.
“I’ve read his speech many times now and I don’t think that in any way, shape or form did it constitute incitement,” he said. “There’s now evidence a lot of what happened was preplanned. I think there’s been a real rush to judgment here.”
In a filing on Monday, Schoen and fellow attorneys Castor and Michael T. van der Veen called on the Senate to dismiss the charges against the former president.
“The Article of Impeachment presented by the House is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, any of which alone would be grounds for immediate dismissal,” their filing said. “Taken together, they demonstrate conclusively that indulging House Democrats hunger for this political theater is a danger to our Republic democracy and the rights that we hold dear.”
They added, “The Senate should dismiss these charges and acquit the president because this is clearly not what the framers wanted or what the Constitution allows.”
During the recent telephone interview, Schoen often had to pause because of a persistent cough, a lingering reminder of his contracting COVID-19 several weeks ago. Although he feels fine physically, Schoen broke down when talking about his 90-year-old mother, who recently succumbed to the virus.
His mother, who lived next door, was his best friend and adviser, he said. “She meant the absolute world to me,” he said, adding that every time he leaves home he still expects to stop by his mom’s house to see her.
Schoen noted that soon after it was made public that he was going to represent Trump at the impeachment trial, he began receiving hate mail and threatening messages.
“Maybe, I guess I was a bit naive,” he said. “But I’ve got 36 years’ experience as a civil rights lawyer. This is what I do.”
The New York Times contributed to this story.
ABOUT DAVID SCHOEN
- David Schoen, who lives in Atlanta, has law offices in New York and Montgomery, Alabama.
- For decades, he has specialized in civil rights litigation and has been recognized by the American Bar Association for his pro bono (free of charge) legal work.
- He also has defended clients in a number of high-profile criminal cases, including Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of former President Donald Trump.
- He is one of two lawyers who will defend Trump at his impeachment trial on Feb. 9.