back to Niagara Falls Reporter main page

back to Niagara Falls Reporter archive


By David Staba

In 1978, the story goes, Paul Cambria Jr. walked out of a Georgia courthouse behind Larry Flynt and saw his most famous client, the publisher of "Hustler" magazine, gunned down by a sniper.

When I heard that story, the teller immediately questioned its credibility.

"I don't think it could have happened that way. Nobody ever beats Paul Cambria out the courthouse door. Especially if he knows there are cameras outside."

Cambria's media savvy is just one of the qualities that makes him the best-known, and arguably best, period, defense attorney in Western New York.

Then there's his ego, which was in full display last week after federal prosecutors alleged conflicts of interest in his representation of Michael "Butch" Quarcini on racketeering and extortion charges. Laborers International Union of America suspended Quarcini from his job as business manager of Local 91 after a federal grand jury indicted him and 13 other union officers and members on an array of felony charges on May 17.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hochul filed a six-page motion for inquiry into potential conflicts with Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio. Cambria dismissed any potential conflict by telling the Niagara Gazette, "They must be afraid of me."

The motion itself makes a far more complex argument. It points out that Cambria's Buffalo law firm, Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury and Cambria, represented at least four potential witnesses during federal grand jury proceedings, each of whom is likely to be called to testify at trial.

Since prosecutors plan to show that Local 91 paid the firm's fees for at least three of the witnesses, a representative of the firm could be subpoenaed, "a scenario which would of course present yet another conflict of insoluble dimension related to appearing as both witness and counsel at the same trial."

In addition, Lipsitz, Green has represented the union itself before the National Labor Relations Board, including one of Quarcini's co-defendants and other Local 91 members. Prosecutors said the firm has also represented the union in other, non-criminal matters.

"In an effort to defeat the Government's case against defendant Quarcini, defense counsel may be required to take an adverse position with respect to these former clients, and also a position adverse to what the law firm advanced before the National Labor Relations Board," the motion reads.

Finally, the motion cites the firm's representation of other unions and union members, including the Bricklayers Union, as a potential conflict, since members of that union are expected to testify that they were victimized by the defendants.

Cambria continued his criticism of the government's protection of the identity of witnesses, saying their anonymity makes it impossible to determine whether a conflict exists.

But Hochul told Cambria and the court that prosecutors will provide a list of witnesses as early as this week, though that won't be introduced by the government as a public document for obvious reasons.

To date, Cambria's public statements about the Local 91 case have centered on the anonymity of witnesses and companies involved in the charges. He also suggested in court that some of the defendants may enter into a joint defense agreement, which would allow their attorneys to coordinate their strategies. Cambria did not return repeated calls seeking comment late last week.

Hochul said the government's motion was not aimed at removing any particular attorney from the case. Such filings are common in federal cases to make sure the court and the defendants themselves are aware of any potential conflicts, thereby eliminating potential grounds for appeal.

Cambria's ability to counterpunch or go on the offensive with equal dexterity make him a formidable foe for prosecutors, should Foschio allow him to remain on the case.

Acclaimed or reviled locally (depending on to whom you're speaking) for his work in a number of high-profile murder cases, Cambria has achieved national notoriety for his representation of Flynt and other major figures in the adult entertainment industry.

A staunch First Amendment advocate, Cambria's ultimately successful defense of the "Hustler" publisher on obscenity charges made him one of the inspirations for the young lawyer played by Edward Norton in a 1996 movie, "The People vs. Larry Flynt."

More recently, he's argued against military censorship of journalists during the war on terrorism on behalf of Flynt and been featured in a PBS documentary on the burgeoning business of pornography.

Perhaps his biggest case of all, at least from a publicity standpoint, looks to be heating up after James Charles Kopp, accused of murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian, waived extradition proceedings and agreed to return to Buffalo from France to face trial.

Whether he's proudly strutting toward a local television news camera, arguing before the Supreme Court or lecturing adult-industry luminaries on the fine points of the First Amendment, it's evident that Cambria's resume is matched only by his ego.

But, as they say, its only bragging if you can't do it. And more often than not, Cambria has done his job extremely well.

With the feds promising to introduce dozens of witnesses and boxes of evidence, including video and audio surveillance tapes, Cambria and the other 13 attorneys will certainly have plenty of work in the months ahead.

If, that is, Foschio allows them to continue doing it.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter and the editor of the BuffaloPOST. He welcomes email at

Niagara Falls Reporter June 4 2002