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Benedict Morelli Feels Your Pain


The expenses? Except after one early indiscretion, Morelli says, nobody at Morgan ever complained to Curry about his expenses before he was fired. Not one warning.

The strip clubs? Morgan employees go to Scores all the time, Curry says.

The Fishs Eddy fight -- which has since bloomed into a $4 million civil suit against Curry? A complete misunderstanding, swears Curry, that will be cleared up when the criminal case is appealed.

And the e-mail matter? Morelli happily refers to Morgan Stanley's paid informant: The D.A.'s office dropped its case against Curry when it learned that Morgan had paid $10,000 to Charles Luethke, an old friend from Curry's college days, for information about Curry and the e-mails. While Luethke reportedly told Morgan Stanley that Curry wanted to plant the e-mails, Morelli says that's a fabrication. In fact, Curry argues, Luethke actually told Curry something quite different -- that he had access to some e-mails that already existed on the company's system.

In other words, says Morelli, Christian Curry, still young and naïve, had become the victim of a sting. Luethke himself recently swore to an affidavit detailing his role in the caper -- the latest of several contradictory and befuddling statements Luethke has made on the matter. The scam has already brought down one legal head at Morgan Stanley, after the D.A.'s office caught on to the payoff.

But none of this explains why Curry fell for it. With his client sitting three feet from him, Morelli spins the arrest story as evidence of Curry's ineptitude. "This shows what a kid Christian is -- how immature he was," Morelli says. "When they said, 'We'll want $1,000 for the e-mails,' he said, 'I'm not going to give you $1,000 -- I can give you $200.' "

"I'd get up at five or six in the morning and run five or six miles, and while I was running, I'd say, 'Right now, my adversary is sitting and eating bacon and eggs,' " says Morelli. "You can't beat me by trying to exhaust me."

"I wanted to see if he was for real," Curry says, looking down at his shake. Morelli waves his hand. "He's had time to think about this. He's in therapy about it. We've spent days here at the office talking about it."

"I shouldn't have taken those pictures," continues Curry. "I'm sorry. I've apologized. But I shouldn't have been fired for it. In the banking industry, that's very outrageous behavior. It's not in the modeling industry."

"Well," Morelli says, "they're very holier-than-thou in the banking industry. Stuff will come out."

Curry pulls from his wallet a photo of his fiancée, Marisa Wheeler, a pretty, dark-haired woman posing in a Columbia graduation cap and gown. "I was thinking about this in the shower this morning, talking to Snuggles about it," he says. "She's my angel. She saved my life emotionally, physically -- and I don't ever doubt my case -- but sometimes I look back at what's happened and say, 'I can't believe this is happening.' Then he picks me up." Curry glances across the desk at his lawyer. "Ben will tell me when I'm wrong. He'll say, 'This just doesn't work.' But when I walk out of his office, I feel more confident. If something bad happens, he won't let me get down on myself. That's what I need."

"You know, in the year I've gotten to know Christian, he's matured so much," Morelli adds later. "I've really been a good influence on him."

When Ben Morelli first walked into the law offices of Dinkes, Mandel & Dinkes in 1973, he was the same age Christian Curry is now, and about as aimless and desperate -- a 26-year-old law-school dropout, in a troubled marriage, renting a morose basement apartment near his parents' house in Brooklyn. He had made two failed stabs at college before graduating and fared even worse in law school, quitting after his first year. Finally, he decided to take one last shot at law by clerking for the bar, a rare practice that's even rarer today. "I look back now and say, 'How could I not have done well?' " Morelli says. "I don't think that's indicative of who I really am."

As the assistant to William Dinkes, the son of the firm's founder, Morelli the clerk handled the tiniest of cases, sometimes more than one a day, preparing witnesses and wrangling settlements when his peers were still trying to make the law review. "I could select a jury by lunch," he says, "and have the case tried by the end of the day." He passed the bar in 1977, and when he vowed -- aloud and often -- to become a partner at the firm one day, he remembers, one of his bosses, Leon Mandel, laughed at him. "But he didn't laugh," Morelli crows now, "when I bought him out."

His ambition was palpable -- off-putting, even. But it worked for him. "I wanted to be the best trial lawyer there was," he says. "And I was so difficult to deal with in court because of that. I would get up at five or six in the morning and run five or six miles, and while I was running, I'd say, 'Right now, my adversary is sitting and eating bacon and eggs.' "

Morelli did make partner, his partners grew older, and his ambition only grew stronger. In 1997, he went to court to break up his partnership with William Dinkes. The terms of the separation are sealed, but it generated enough bad blood to keep Dinkes from commenting on the man he once considered a brother.

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