Plato Cacheris sits in his office at Trout Cacheris & Janis, overlooking Connecticut Avenue in D.C.’s Dupont Circle. His walls are decorated with photographs of the now 86-year-old lawyer during his most notable trials. At first glance, these framed pictures look like stills from a Sidney Lumet courtroom thriller. Indeed, Cacheris’ legal career reads like a movie script. The Georgetown Law alum’s trial history is a Hollywood producer’s dream come true: Aldrich Ames, Monica Lewinsky, Edward Snowden, Ana Montes and the representation of former attorney general John Mitchell during the Watergate prosecution.
Today, Cacheris is a white collar criminal defense attorney with no signs of slowing down. As he sits in his office, he draws his attention to a sharp black-and-white framed photograph. “That’s Fawn Hall testifying before a congressional committee about Ollie North in ‘88 or ’89,” he says. The photo shows a serious-faced Cacheris sitting with his hands resting on top of his counsel bench during trial. Beside him is Fawn Hall, then-secretary to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver (“Ollie”) North and prominent figure in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Well before his representation of Ms. Hall, Cacheris made the decision to attend Georgetown Law. “To some extent, my Marine training influenced me to go to law school,” says Cacheris. “I went to Georgetown Foreign Service undergraduate. I was too young to be drafted into World War II and I thought I was safe from any military involvement. But during June of ’50, the Korean War broke out.” By now, his interest in the law had spurred from law-related courses he had taken at Georgetown School of Foreign Service and from performing special court-martial. “I applied to [Georgetown Law] and got accepted. I got out of the Marines and I started law school in June of ’53.”
The campus and atmosphere were different in the 1950s. Not only was the campus physically located near present-day Chinatown, but there was a fraction of the amount of students that attend today. “The classes were smaller and you got to know everybody,” remembers Cacheris. “I really liked getting back into the academic world after spending two years away in the Marines, and so I was very interested and enthusiastic about law school. For me, it was a real pleasure.” The young lawyer also took an immediate liking to criminal law during his time at Georgetown, a focus that would follow him through his career. “I first interviewed down at the DOJ…Nathan Lenvin interviewed me. We connected and he immediately offered me a job—so I took it. I got involved in some interesting cases right away, and then after a few years, I ended up going over to the criminal division where I stayed until 1960.”
A common theme among Cacheris’ cases throughout his career is espionage. In 1994, Cacheris served as attorney for Aldrich Ames, a former CIA counterintelligence officer who passed along sensitive information to the Soviet Union and Russia. Ames’ actions constituted the second-most widespread breach in United States history, second only to the actions of Robert Hanssen, whom Cacheris also represented. In 2004, Cacheris took on the case of Ana Montes, an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who pled guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage for the Intelligence Directorate of Cuba. For Cacheris, this was one of his most interesting cases. “She had a belief in Cuba. She truly believed that Cuba was being treated unfairly by the U.S. and she wanted to make things equal, if not right,” says Cacheris. As the United States relation with Cuba shifted under the Obama administration, a media spotlight highlighted this little-known case. In an April 2013 Washington Post article, Montes is described as being among the most harmful spies in recent memory. “It was interesting to represent her because she owned up to what she did…she pled guilty to what she did and she has never apologized for her actions til this day.”
It seems clear that Cacheris’ success stems from the calculated decisions he made after law school, first by joining the Department of Justice, and then by honing his skills as a criminal defense attorney. He expresses gratitude to have fallen into one of the most interesting lines of work an attorney could hope for. With every passing year at Georgetown Law, as students begin focusing more and more on post-graduation prospects, it is worth keeping in mind that there are many choices in addition to the obvious ones. That is part of the message that Cacheris wishes to share with the current students at Georgetown Law. “One of the good things about lawyering is that there are many different things you can do. You can do tax law, criminal law, public sector, property… decide which branch you would enjoy and want to go into.” Of course, the real work begins once these paths have been chosen. To rise to the top, Cacheris pinpoints two important traits an attorney can have: “You have to be smart and you have to work hard, in blunt language. That’s what I think are the most important traits an attorney can have.”
Photos courtesy of Plato Cacheris.