In April 2001, the firm was hired to defend Jay-Z, who had been arrested on a gun-possession charge—one of two charges the rapper faced as he recorded The Blueprint (the other being the more infamous stabbing of Lance “Un” Rivera). That was a less wonderful day, as Richman remembers. “It was bad, ’cause I had just put conditioner on my hair,” she says with a laugh. “I had to run out of my house, and my hair was all slicked back… I had to run to the precinct, and I was like, Uggggh!”
While her father represented Jay in the stabbing case, which would end in a guilty plea and a sentence of three years’ probation, she took the gun case and got the charges dropped. Her stock was rising.
Two years later, in late 2003, she was hired to defend the Dipset rapper Freekey Zekey, who’d been charged with drug trafficking in North Carolina. There was a time during the case when the two were stranded overnight in the Charlotte airport as they tried to make it back home. “She wasn’t like, ‘I’m the lawyer, you gotta pay for me and my hotel, and I have to be this and that,’ ” Freekey says. “She was like, ‘Oh, we stuck? Well, take your jacket, ball it up.’ That’s my pillow. ‘We gonna lay right here in this airport until we get it right.’ She would not only speak to me, she would call my moms. She would make sure my family was all right.”
Freekey says things were going well until Richman was moved off the case, due to a conflicting murder trial she had in New York. “Once I got the other lawyer,” he says, “it lasted a week, and they gave me three years.”
He’s confident that, had his counsel remained constant, he would have remained a free man. “I love Stacey. I would push her out the way and take a bullet,” he says. “She made me feel like she was my sister, and I was in trouble. There was no limit she would stop at to make sure her brother was fine.”
This jibes with Richman’s own description of her work ethic. “If you’re coming to me, it’s as if I’m representing my brother, my sister, my mother,” she says. “You’re the most important person in the world to me.”
Last June, another call came in from another rapper. Busted for acting up outside of a woman’s apartment in Chelsea, Kid Cudi had been brought up on charges of cocaine possession. Less than half a year later, despite an initial statement by the Manhattan district attorney’s office claiming that Cudi had entered a guilty plea, the case was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
Richman calls Cudi “brilliant” and says that, besides representing him legally, she’s a fan of his music. “I listen to my clients,” she says. “I don’t like to listen to them while I’m working on their cases, because I’m so concerned about them that it’s distracting. So for the whole period that I was working on Wayne and Ja, I didn’t listen to Wayne and Ja music, which was painful, ’cause I really enjoy it. And I’m back onto Cudi now, ’cause I’m all done [with his case].”
That fateful summer night in 2007 led to guilty pleas and time behind bars for both of Richman’s millions-selling rapper clients. Ja began his two-year prison sentence in Rikers Island in early June, after a judge denied arguments that the gun the police found should have been deemed ineligible as evidence; he will ultimately reside in a New York detention facility yet to be determined. “I think that Ja’s gun should have been suppressed, but the courts ruled otherwise,” Richman says. “I thought the search was a bad search. That was my opinion, and I think that—there was a lot of testimony with regard to this issue, and the court did not agree.”
Wayne served eight months at Rikers Island last year before getting out in November. Richman believes he could have beaten the charges in court. New York gun laws are in contradiction with those in other states, she says—a disconnect that can create confusion and, potentially, reasonable doubt.
“I thought that Wayne’s case was a very good case to try, and he chose otherwise,” she says. “He had a license to carry in Florida that had reciprocity with many states. I don’t believe that he was guilty of what they were trying to prove through the charges he was accused of.” That said, she respects his decision. “You need to give [clients] all of the options for them so that they can make the choices for their lives.”
It’s Richman’s passion, and her compassion, that makes her so good at her job. She very clearly views each of her clients as an individual, and as a real person, no matter the level of fame or notoriety—a person facing real problems, who needs to avail him- or herself of every bit of protection the judicial system provides.
“I really believe very passionately in what I do. I really believe very passionately in our Constitution. And I love what I do. I think one thing that’s really important is that you want to represent somebody the way you would want to be represented. You want every stone turned. You want every lead investigated. You want every aspect considered.”
When she speaks this way about her work, it’s easy to see why she has become the go-to choice for the rap-world elite. At her core, she’s very hip-hop. “This entire profession is real life,” she says. “What we do is real life at its most raw and most exciting and its most tragic and its most awesome.” —Adam Fleischer
**COP THE JULY/AUGUST 2011 ISSUE OF XXL, ON STANDS NOW**