Shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22, 2007, a blue Maybach was pulled over for speeding on New York’s Upper West Side. Three men, including a millions-selling rap star, were inside. Also inside, police discovered a .40-caliber pistol. Arrested for criminal possession of a weapon, the rap star decided to call Stacey Richman.
On that same night, about an hour later, also in New York City, police pulled over another vehicle. This one, a tour bus, also contained a millions-selling rap star. It was also searched. A .40-caliber pistol was also found. The rap star inside was also arrested for criminal possession of a weapon. He also called Stacey Richman.
Being summoned twice in as many hours—to represent Ja Rule and Lil Wayne, respectively—made for a frantic evening for the Bronx-bred criminal defense lawyer. But it was nothing she couldn’t handle. “The next day was more hectic, because we were working to get them out,” she says some three and a half years later, sitting in a window seat at Vino restaurant on the Upper East Side. “We ended up in night court, and by 5 the next day, both Ja—there were two other people [arrested with him] as well—I got all three of them, plus Wayne, out.”
An unlikely hip-hop heroine, the 44-year-old White, Jewish Richman has earned herself a reputation as a stout defender of rappers in legal trouble. During the past decade, working for the firm of her father, Murray “No Worry Murray” Richman—whom The Village Voice named “Best Lawyer to Call When the D.A. Indicts You” last year—she has represented Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Ja Rule, Kid Cudi and Freekey Zekey, among other notables. And she’s won accolades for her hard work and down-to-earth compassion.
“She’s an angel,” says Freekey, who retained Richman for a 2003 drug case that eventually resulted in a three-year prison bid. “I wish we came from the same bloodline. She took care of me as if I was her fam. I will salute her, because she didn’t make me feel like she was a lawyer who got paid to do a job.”
Richman checks her BlackBerry frequently. Just a few hours before arriving at the restaurant, she was retained to represent model Theodora Richards, the daughter of rock-’n’-roll legend Keith Richards, who had had her picture posted all over TMZ and other tabloids after being arrested on graffiti charges in March. Despite her famous clientele, though, Richman avoids the label of “celebrity lawyer.”
“It’s great that there are celebrities and hip-hop personalities that have faith in me. I want to maintain that,” she says. Still, “I don’t consider myself a celebrity lawyer; I don’t consider myself a hip-hop lawyer. I’d like to be considered an excellent lawyer. That’s my goal… I couldn’t care less if you are a ditchdigger or the president of the United States. I’m gonna work my ass off.”
Born in the South Bronx, the locale widely credited as hip-hop’s birthplace, Richman is the product of a distinctively American melting pot. Her paternal grandparents were from Russia, or the Ukraine (“depending on where the border was that week,” she says). Her maternal grandfather was from Spain, and her stepmother, Puerto Rico. She grew up idolizing her father, who represented so many accused criminals in the 1970s and 1980s that it was said he had his own personal courtrooms in Manhattan and the Bronx.
“Growing up was very interesting, because we had an insight into a world that I gather most people find very exciting, but to us it was quite normal,” she recalls. “I remember one time, my father had gotten somebody out of jail—it was a younger kid—and the judge is like, ‘I’m not going to release him.’ And my father said, ‘You know what, release him into my custody.’ The judge was like, ‘All right, he’s yours.’ His passion for what he does really stems from that he always perceived [himself] as the person on the outside looking in.”
That passion rubbed off on the older of Murray’s two daughters, who seemed destined to become a defense attorney from an early age. “I was always getting my friends out of trouble,” Richman remembers. “It seemed like a natural flow.”
After attending Ramapo Senior High School, in New York’s Rockland County, Richman headed to Brandeis University, located just outside of Boston, where she studied political science, legal studies and philosophy. Upon graduation, she returned to New York City and enrolled at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. After wrapping up there, she took and passed the bar in New York and New Jersey, but also in California, and ended up heading out to Los Angeles to start her career.
Her work there, though, mostly in civil suits involving the rich and famous, left her unsatisfied. “I felt that criminal law was ultimately far more meaningful,” she says.
So Richman moved back to New York, to be closer to family and to pursue a new side of the law. Soon the up-and-comer began working with her dad while trying to establish her own name—a process kick-started on her very first felony case.
It lasted a year and a half and ended in just 45 minutes. Saddled with a lengthy rap sheet and new drug charges, and facing life in prison if found guilty, her client, a man named Wayne Faciglia, had been incarcerated during the entire year-plus process. But after closing arguments, it took the jury under an hour to acquit. “The man walked out the door with me,” she says with a smile. “And that was a wonderful day.”
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