The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

The first case they worked on together, Hill as the attorney and Yoo as his intern, was the Stephen Miles case, in which they sued the National Enquirer for printing that Miles was a pedophile and suspect in the JonBenét murder case. "It was a huge risk -- a poor client, and in the end we were left holding the bag financially," she says.

"He knew the risk, but he wanted to help Steve make a statement, empower him to stand up for himself. Steve needed a champion and Lee was that champion."

It's the same now with The Witness. When the woman first called, Yoo says she counseled Hill not to get involved. "We already had so much going on."

Lee Hill
Lee Hill
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.
Action figures: Steven Seagal and Lee Hill are working on movie and television projects.

Such as representing the family of Jeong Uk Noh. On January 16, a fifteen-year-old Brazilian named Lucas de Arruda drove a Chevy Suburban to McDonald's. He'd been snowboarding that day with another Brazilian, Fabio Strazzer, 28.

Strazzer had separated his shoulder on the slopes and asked de Arruda, who did not have a driver's license, to drive them back to a friend's house in Boulder. The younger boy had been living in a house in Conifer with his sponsor, a Brazilian named Marcio Dias, a longtime friend of the boy's family. Dias was the caretaker of the house and had lent the Suburban, which belonged to his employers, to Strazzer.

There were several stories of how de Arruda had ended up with the car. One was that he wanted to go to McDonald's and ignored Strazzer's admonition not to take the Suburban for the three-block trip. Another was that he was asked to go pick up food for himself and the others.

While trying to park, de Arruda later told police, he accidentally pressed on the accelerator instead of the brake. The vehicle lurched forward, smashing through an outside dining area and striking Jeong Uk Noh, a 25-year-old South Korean who was attending the University of Colorado, and his girlfriend, Sun Jung Yoon, who had only just arrived for a visit.

Noh died at the scene. Yoon escaped with minor injuries.

Yoo and Hill were soon involved, since Yoo was one of the few area lawyers who spoke fluent Korean, and Hill had experience with international matters.

Apparently, de Arruda's family was well-connected in Brazil. "His mother called the president of the country and pretty quick the Brazilian consulate was involved," Hill says. "So we called the Korean consulate and pretty soon we had an international incident on our hands."

Both consulates let District Attorney Alex Hunter's office know that they would be carefully watching the proceedings. The DA handled the case well, Hill thought, but once again he found himself wondering about the level of communication between the Boulder police and the prosecutors. He was the one who had to tell the district attorney's office that a small quantity of narcotics had been found in the car, though the boy hadn't tested positive for drugs in his system.

Yoo and Hill were able to translate the whole process to Noh's family so that they felt that their voice was heard. And they filed a wrongful- death lawsuit.

On February 25, de Arruda, with a Portuguese translator and his mother at his side, pleaded guilty to careless driving resulting in death and careless driving resulting in injury. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a charge of criminally negligent homicide and agreed to take no position on whether de Arruda should serve jail time. (On March 24, de Arruda received a year's probation.)

At the same time, Hill had received his first call from The Witness, and Yoo was warning him against getting involved. However, when she heard more about what the woman had been through, Yoo, who often deals with sexual-assault cases, agreed that they couldn't turn their backs. "She's no different than many of our other clients. She needed help."

Being turned down by the CIA was devastating to Hill. But he needed to find a job -- all his student loans from 1977 through law school were coming due. He went out and found the best-paying position he could -- as a civil lawyer for a firm that specialized in defending insurance companies against claims.

His first day, he was assigned a case in which the client had been accused of sexual assault. The district attorney's office had refused to even file criminal charges, but the woman was now trying to win civil damages. Hill met with the client, who spoke with an accent that he claimed was German. But Hill's wife was German, and he knew better.

The mystery was cleared up a couple of days later when a lawyer with the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as another from the U.S. Attorney General's office, showed up. They insisted that the firm's managing partner and Hill sign a nondisclosure agreement. When that was accomplished, they revealed that their client was a major Warsaw Pact defector. Hill's firm was to see to it that information about their client, who would be in danger if he was discovered, did not get out in the court proceedings.

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