Brafman was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Crown Heights-Brooklyn and Belle Harbor, Queens. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Brooklyn College and earned his J.D. with distinction from Ohio Northern University College of Law, where he served as Manuscript Editor of The Law Review. He then earned an LL.M. in Criminal Justice from New York University School of Law.
After graduating from law school, Brafman began his legal career in 1974 working for a criminal defense firm for two years, before becoming an Assistant District Attorneyin the Rackets Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Brafman left the DA’s office to go into practice in 1980.
Over the years, Brafman has received many professional honors. In 1997, New York Magazine named Brafman as the “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in New York.” Brafman received the “Outstanding Private Criminal Defense Practitioner Award” from the New York State Bar Association in 2005. In March 2006, the New York Council of Defense Lawyers presented Brafman with the Norman Ostrow Award for outstanding achievement in the field of White Collar Criminal Defense and Brafman was the recipient of the “first” ever Clarence Darrow Award for Distinguished Practitioner, by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Brafman is also a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Brafman lives in Long Island, New York with his wife Lynda, where they are active in several religious and charitable organizations in the U.S. as well as Israel. The couple has two children and thirteen grandchildren, who reside in New York and Jerusalem, Israel. When Brafman isn’t working, he enjoys his grandchildren, reading and working out. The proud New Yorker also enjoys rooting for the Mets, Giants and Knicks. An avid reader, Brafman’s favorite book is Thane Rosenbaum’s Second Hand Smoke.
Brafman’s Successful Law Career
As Brafman discussed his career, he observed that in the legal profession, “I am primarily known as a trial lawyer and have been told that I am considered a very good cross-examiner.”Brafman concentrates mainly on criminal defense, with an emphasis on White Collar Law. On occasion, he also does trial work in an ‘of counsel’ capacity to non-criminal defense firms who need the assistance of an experienced trial lawyer.
According to Brafman, he is most passionate about, “Criminal law,representing fundamentally good people who may be flawed, or who may have otherwise screwed up but nevertheless still have many redeeming qualities”and in his opinion “are truly worth saving.”
In recent years Brafman has also branched out into general litigation, noting that,“given enough time to prepare, a really good trial lawyer can try any case.” As to what are his strengths and weaknesses, Brafman suggests, that as for his strengths, “I have very good work habits and a strong work ethic. I also believe I have strong verbal and writing skills. I am tough when necessary but can also be gentle.” As to his weaknesses, Brafman suggests “I will leave it to others to point those out.”
On the question of pro bono work, Brafman notes, “I have always done a fair amount of pro bono work. Not as much as I would like however, because I have a very big, expensive practice that I must finance and manage. I pay a lot of people every week and accordingly, there is only so much of my time I can devote to pro bono work.”
If he weren’t a lawyer, what would Brafman like to be doing?“Maybe work as a talk-show host, newscaster, actor, writer, a professional baseball player, or the owner of the world's best tie store!”
Where does Brafman see himself in five years’ time? “Hopefully alive and healthy, enjoying my family and maybe the sun some place warm.” How does Brafman want to be remembered? “As a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather, a good Jew, a good friend, a strong, honest, compassionate man, a passionate advocate, a proud American; someone who treated people fairly.”
Former Assistant District Attorney, High Profile Cases and Goals
Brafman was a former Assistant District Attorney in the Rackets Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s Office. How was this experience? According to Brafman, “My time as an Assistant District Attorney in the Rackets Bureau of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office was very important and rewarding. It also allowed me to gain very valuable trial experience which gave me a huge leg up when I went from there into private practice. I hit the ground running, as a very experienced trial lawyer who also knew the Criminal Justice System from ‘within’. Priceless experience.”
Brafman has represented many celebrities, but several stand out in particular. He explained:
“The cases of Peter Gatien and Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs will always standout in [my] mind, as they both involved very high-profile trials that ended in acquittals, when at the outset, the media and the entire legal community were predicting slam dunk convictions. Winning those trials while the world watched,helped enhance my reputation as a highly capable trial lawyer. Both men also became friends who I still see from time to time and each of them credits me with ‘saving’ their lives. Pretty good feeling.”
Brafman’s profile rose dramatically following the acquittal of Sean Combs,who in 1999 was acquitted of illegal weapons and bribery charges in a highly publicized 8 week trial. What did he learn from that case? Brafman explains:
“The Combs trial in particular taught me about the pressure of being at the center of what at the time, was being called the ‘trial of the decade.’ Dealing with a rabid media and a celebrity client can be a distracting and seductive experience unless you maintain a strong focus and are a really disciplined professional. That case earned me my stripes as a strong and disciplined professional, who understood the extraordinary responsibility of representing an innocent man, who if acquitted, had the potential of becoming the single most successful African American entrepreneur of this generation.”
Brafman points out with pride that Combs was acquitted, and today, is an amazing success in every entertainment and business venture he touches. “I take great pride in Sean’s spectacular success.”
In 2008, Brafman was retained to represent NFL star Plaxico Burress who was indicted on illegal weapons charges under New York’s new very strict gun laws. Burress pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. Brafman was not satisfied with the outcome of that case:
“The Plaxico Burress case still depresses me. The facts in that case were never in dispute. Plaxico accidentally shot himself in front of 500 people with a weapon registered in his own name, but not licensed in New York. The law in New York made it impossible for me to work out a non-jail plea and Plaxico’s celebrity status at the time, made him the poster boy for Mayor Bloomberg’s new anti-gun campaign. In my opinion, Plaxico was treated unfairly and there was nothing I could do about it. Indeed, it took me 8 months of fighting and begging to get him a 2 year sentence, which although severe, was less than the 3 ½ year mandatory minimum sentence provided for in the Statute.”
In 2011, Brafman and William W. Taylor III, were retained to represent Dominique Strauss Kahn in a Sexual Assault case. DSK, who was then head of the International Monetary Fund was to date, Brafman’s highest profile client.
“The Dominique Strauss-Kahn case was clearly the ‘highest’ of the many high-profile cases I have ever been involved with. This was non-stop ‘worldwide’ media coverage from the date of DSK’s arrest in May 2011, through the dismissal of all charges in August 2011. The coverage was relentless and intrusive beyond imagination. At some point we were told that the DSK case was on the front page of every newspaper in the world!”
Commenting on the Post-Indictment dismissal of all charges, Brafman notes, “ I was beyond pleased with the outcome in the DSK case. It is indeed very rare for a high-profile case to be dismissed ‘after’ indictment. In fact, I remember walking out of the Court house following the dismissal, and telling my co-counsel Bill Taylor that we needed ‘to savor this moment as it may not occur again for us in our lifetime.’ To win a ‘dismissal’ of that case with the entire world watching was extraordinary and also, very, satisfying as in our hearts, Taylor and I really believed that DSK had not committed any crime.”
Does the successful Criminal Defense Lawyer and former Assistant District Attorney have any current goals? “To continue to do really excellent legal work and to also try to make a positive difference in the lives of all people I encounter, in both my personal and professional life.”