Today we learned that Donald Trump’s erstwhile lead Russia lawyer, John Dowd, was likely forced to step down rather opting to pursue new opportunities in the law, as originally claimed. That got me curious about Andrew J. Ekonomou, who is now apparently Trump’s new lead attorney since Dowd’s departure. Ekonomou does not appear to have ever worked at a major national law firm, ever worked in Washington, DC or even worked as a defense lawyer. What first attracted my attention was that in addition to being an attorney, Ekonomou is also a medieval historian who writes about the early medieval papacy and the Byzantine empire. As a lapsed PhD myself I thought, if nothing else, this is a great story of PhDs finding alternative career tracks outside the academy!
But Ekonomou’s story actually gets so much better.
Andrew Ekonomou got his bachelor’s degree from Emory University in 1970 and his law degree, also from Emory, in 1974. It was what Ekonomou described to Reuters as a “mid-life crisis” that sent him back to Emory in the 1990s to become a medievalist. He earned his doctorate in 2000.
Since then Ekonomou appears to have mixed history writing with life as a semi-retired or perhaps three-quarters’ time lawyer, doing murder prosecutions on contract for Glynn County DA Jackie Johnson and civil forfeiture work for DAs around his home state of Georgia.
His law firm, Ekonomou Atkinson & Lambros, actually specializes in bringing civil and criminal forfeiture proceedings against convenience store owners accused of running video poker machines. He even does the occasional gig acting as a receiver for this or that business on the skids. He covers a lot of ground. He and law partner, Michael Lambros, even managed to get involved in a reasonably high profile scandal, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The first thing I found out about Ekonomou when I cranked up the Google was in this 2003 article by James Grimaldi in The Washington Post.
The article is actually about Jay Sekulow, the President’s current TV lawyer who was and remains a major ‘religious liberty’ activist. Sekulow has a huge following on the religious right and is the one who brought Ekonomou onto the President’s team back in June. Sekulow is also a master fundraiser. Indeed, he and his family have made many millions of dollars over the years through various ‘religious liberty’ charities and foundations they control.
Even for a pro like Sekulow, though, sometimes things don’t go exactly according to plan. One of those times came in 2002 when a letter from Sekulow arrived at the Rural Route 2 mailbox of Alice Rissler who lived just outside Charles Town, West Virginia.
In the letter, Sekulow mentioned a call the Risslers had received from “my assistant, Damion Boyd.” Sekulow, he explained, following up about their tax deductible contribution to the work of the Lord.
“I know you told Damion that you weren’t sure whether you could help with a gift or not … But if you do find you can send as much as $25, it will be a tremendous blessing.” Sekulow or perhaps we should say “Sekulow” signed the letter “your brother advocating Jesus.”
So far so good.
The problem was that Alice Rissler didn’t remember any call from Damion. More jarring, the letter was addressed to Alice’s husband, who had died two years earlier. Alice got upset. She brought in her son Ron. Ron got upset. Ron called up Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice, the Sekulow family’s main nonprofit, to ask WTF was up or how Damion had had a chat with Ron’s long-dead father.
He didn’t get a good response. Actually, someone named Derick who answered the phone at ACLJ allegedly laughed at him. That spurred Ron to write a letter to Sekulow and Boyd asking for an explanation.
This is when Andrew Ekonomou got involved. He sent the Risslers a letter telling them to stop harassing his client, Jay Sekulow. (Damion Boyd, it turns out, didn’t even work for ACLJ. He worked for Infocision Inc., ACLJ’s telemarketing firm.)
From the Post …
Instead of a phone call, Rissler received a letter in February from Andrew J. Ekonomou of the Atlanta law firm of Ekonomou, Atkinson & Lambros LLC., who said he was Sekulow’s attorney.
“It is not clear to me why you have addressed your letter to Mr. Sekulow when it is Mr. Boyd with whom you wish to speak,” Ekonomou wrote. “Any further direct communications between you and my clients are to cease at once.”
Rissler disregarded the letter, which he took as a legal threat. After writing another letter to Sekulow, and getting no reply, he wrote to Ekonomou, asking a series of questions. Among them was whether the ACLJ was violating West Virginia’s Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act and statutes dealing with fraudulent schemes and false pretenses.
About the same time, Rissler complained to the West Virginia secretary of state’s charity regulators.
Ekonomou replied in May that the letter to his dead father was an “inadvertence” that occurred because Boyd had spoken with a John Rissler — Ron Rissler’s twin brother, who shares his late father’s first name but has a different middle initial. (The brother, however, has lived at a different address for many years; Boyd had never called Alice Rissler’s home.)
In other words, fifteen years ago Ekonomou’s gig was sending nastygrams to rural Christians who got bent out of shape over Sekulow’s hyper-aggressive fundraising pitches.
Happily, a few years later, Ekonomou and Lambros were on to bigger and better things. They were making a killing working as contract prosecutors initiating civil forfeiture proceedings against Georgia convenience store owners accused of illegal gambling on video poker machines. Ekonomou and Lambros ended up making so much money that they started getting unwanted media attention. The press scrutiny revealed they were working on contingency. A number of Middle and South Georgia DA’s offices had hired the duo on a contingency basis, thus incentivizing them to claim as many assets as possible since they got a percentage cut of the haul from each mini-mart.
The Georgia legislature had to pass a new law in 2012 mandating that contract prosecutors like Ekonomou could only be paid on an hourly basis, not in bounties.
In any case, since then Ekonomou seems to have focused more on contract murder prosecutions. In an interview with Reuters, he said he “prosecutes a lot of murders for the D.A. … nothing earthshattering.”
Eclectic resume notwithstanding, Ekonomou insists he’s tested and ready for the job as Trump’s lead criminal lawyer squaring off against Bob Mueller. “I’ve been tested plenty of times. Just because you’re not a Beltway lawyer doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing.”