Jennifer Bonjean, a protection lawyer who has the phrases “not responsible” tattooed on her proper arm, referred to as one girl who accused R. Kelly of sexual abuse a “pathological liar.” She accused one other of extortion. She tried to choose their accounts aside, and attacked prosecutors for stripping her shopper, the previous R&B star, of “each single little bit of humanity that he has.”
Ms. Bonjean, who was Mr. Kelly’s lead lawyer in the course of the legal trial in Chicago that ended along with his conviction final week, has turn into recognized for her aggressive techniques in representing males accused of sexual misconduct in a number of of the best profile circumstances of the #MeToo period.
She helped Invoice Cosby get his sexual assault conviction overturned final 12 months, which led to his being free of jail. She has additionally represented Keith Raniere, as soon as the chief of the Nxivm intercourse cult, as he appealed his conviction on intercourse trafficking and different fees, for which he was sentenced to 120 years in jail.
“Everybody’s entitled to a vigorous protection,” Ms. Bonjean, 52, stated in an interview final week shortly earlier than Mr. Kelly’s conviction on intercourse crimes involving minors was introduced.
Her theatrical, knock-down-drag-out fashion is hardly atypical on this planet of legal protection, nevertheless it has attracted consideration at a time when #MeToo-era circumstances are reaching trial, as she has urged jurors to be skeptical of ladies who’ve testified, typically by means of tears, about being sexually abused.
“We’re in an period of ‘consider ladies’ and I agree, however not within the courtroom,” Ms. Bonjean stated throughout closing arguments within the Kelly case. “We don’t simply consider ladies or consider something. We scrutinize. There’s no place for mob-like considering in a courtroom.”
That perspective and her relentless cross-examination of accusers, which usually includes drilling them on any inconsistencies of their accounts and questioning their motives, has drawn criticism from those that say it might scare abused ladies from coming ahead.
Lili Bernard, who has sued Mr. Cosby and accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1990, stated she was upset by Ms. Bonjean’s conduct earlier this 12 months the place she defended Mr. Cosby in a civil case introduced by a girl who stated he had sexually assaulted her when she was a teen. Ms. Bernard, who attended the trial in California, referred to as the lawyer’s cross-examination of that girl, Judy Huth, and different accusers “sufferer blaming and sufferer shaming.”
Initially from Valparaiso, Ind., Ms. Bonjean (pronounced bon-JEEN) is a classically educated opera singer who earned a grasp’s diploma in music and as soon as labored at a rape disaster heart in Chicago, advocating for victims of sexual violence — a stint, she stated, that some may now see “as ironic.”
That job led her to check at Loyola College Chicago’s regulation college with the intention of changing into a prosecutor, however she ended up going into protection work after gravitating towards “underdog” shoppers. As a lawyer who views prosecutorial overstep as her driving power, she gained prominence by specializing in so-called wrongful conviction circumstances.
Russell Ainsworth, a employees lawyer on the Exoneration Undertaking on the College of Chicago Regulation College, has labored with Ms. Bonjean on civil rights circumstances for a decade and stated that sometimes, he performs the “straight man,” whereas she “comes out swinging.”
“If I wanted a lawyer to go to the mat for me, that’s the lawyer I’d select,” he stated.
Her method was on show earlier this 12 months within the civil swimsuit introduced by Ms. Huth, who accused Mr. Cosby of sexually assaulting her on the Playboy Mansion in 1975, when she was 16.
Throughout Ms. Bonjean’s cross-examination of Ms. Huth, she challenged her on why it had taken her a long time to return ahead along with her accusation. At one level she instructed that Ms. Huth had saved quiet in regards to the journey to the mansion, not as a result of she had buried painful reminiscences, however as a result of she was uncomfortable telling those who she had gone there with Mr. Cosby as a result of he’s Black. Ms. Huth strongly denied that.
Through the trial, Ms. Bonjean turned her consideration to Ms. Bernard, and accused her in courtroom of talking with a juror throughout a break. She argued for a mistrial. (The choose denied Ms. Bonjean’s request.)
“In that little second that she tried to falsely accuse me, I felt the wrath of her, the depths she would go to,” Ms. Bernard stated in an interview.
Ms. Bonjean, whose agency is predicated in New York, stated that she considers herself a feminist, insisting that the label shouldn’t be inconsistent along with her work as a protection lawyer for accused males. Her accountability, she defined, is to train each authorized lever at her disposal for her shopper, noting, “that won’t at all times be in keeping with sensitivity to a sufferer’s emotions.”
And he or she contends that if she have been a male lawyer, individuals wouldn’t suppose twice about her method, merely chalking it as much as a lawyer doing his job.
“I’m imagined to be some sort of ambassador — a vagina ambassador,” she stated, “Severely, I get plenty of these questions, like by some means I’m traitorous to ladies by taking up these circumstances.”
Throughout Mr. Kelly’s Chicago case, Ms. Bonjean was boldly combative at each flip. She fought to maintain as a lot of the video footage away from the jury as doable, maintained a gradual stream of objections and typically saved the combat for her shopper happening Twitter.
At one level, prosecutors complained to the choose a few tweet she posted through which she accused them of taking part in soiled tips. Ms. Bonjean supplied to chorus from tweeting in regards to the courtroom proceedings, she stated, and the choose agreed. A number of days later, Ms. Bonjean posted: “I’m not allowed to tweet however I believe I can retweet,” sharing another person’s tweet that quoted her from the trial, calling one of many authorities’s key witnesses “a liar, a thief and an extortionist.”
“I needed to discover what labored for me,” Ms. Bonjean stated of her method. “My aggressive fashion — some individuals name it fiery, some individuals name it, no matter phrases you wish to use to explain it, that was the way in which that I could possibly be efficient.”
Debra S. Katz, a lawyer who has represented high-profile sexual misconduct accusers, stated that protection techniques looking for to shred a girl’s credibility or impugn her character run the chance of failing with a jury, citing Harvey Weinstein’s conviction in New York, throughout which she represented one of many ladies accusing the producer of sexual assault.
“All people deserves a protection, however to assault ladies on this manner is, in my opinion, completely unconscionable,” Ms. Katz stated.
Ms. Bonjean’s highest profile success has been her function in interesting Mr. Cosby’s sexual assault conviction. She and her co-counsels persuaded the Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket that prosecutors violated Mr. Cosby’s rights by reneging on an obvious promise to not cost him on allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004.
Mr. Cosby’s more moderen civil trial ended with a jury discovering in opposition to him that awarded Ms. Huth $500,000 in damages.
In Mr. Kelly’s current case, he was discovered responsible of among the most severe fees, together with of coercing minors into sexual exercise and producing youngster sexual abuse movies. He was acquitted on a number of different fees, together with that he had sought to hinder an earlier investigation.
In each circumstances, Ms. Bonjean has pledged to mount a vigorous attraction.
Robert Chiarito contributed reporting from Chicago.