News & Politics

Wesley Snipes Won’t Be Ignored

Washington superlawyer Billy Martin is starting to feel the effects of his growing national profile, and it’s not all good.

Earlier this year, Martin agreed to represent Michael Vick after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback was indicted on charges related to illegal dogfighting. Then came the disclosure that Martin had been hired to represent Idaho senator Larry Craig. Those two high-profile cases landed Martin’s name and picture in newspapers across the country, but it didn’t do anything to please a third high-profile Martin client, actor Wesley Snipes.

Snipes had been scheduled to stand trial in the fall in Ocala, Florida, on federal charges that he fraudulently claimed nearly $12 million in federal tax refunds and failed to file returns from 1999 to 2004. The federal indictment claimed that Snipes’s accountants had a history of attempting to bilk the IRS and linked Snipes to a church in Florida that teaches its adherents how to avoid taxes.

Martin—whose firm, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, has an office in Florida—had been retained to represent Snipes.

Martin was much in demand among entertainment and sports figures after his successful courtroom defense of New Jersey Nets basketball player Jayson Williams, who had been accused of shooting his chauffeur.

In late September, Martin filed papers in the Florida federal court claiming that Snipes was given bad advice by his accountants and was not part of a conspiracy.

As Martin’s work for Vick accelerated, Snipes fired Martin and complained to the judge that Martin was so busy with the Vick case that he could no longer make his October trial date. Martin has said that Snipes decided to fire him solely to get a trial-date continuance, which the judge granted.

Snipes has since retained a new lawyer. One colleague who has represented high-profile clients notes, “Keeping celebrity clients happy when you have a passel of them is as much an art as a science.” Sources say that while Martin might have liked spending the winter in Florida, landlocked Ocala wouldn’t have been his first choice.

This article can be found in the January 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.