Friday, January 10, 2003

The 'Judge' returns to court


After resigning, Leslie I. Gaines practicing again

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Leslie Isaiah Gaines, inspired by his new daughter, Maliyah, has returned to the practice of law after a six-year hiatus.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
As his recent television commercials and bus bench advertisements proclaim, Leslie Isaiah Gaines has returned to practicing law after an eventful six-year hiatus.

"I'm back! I've got your back! Just call me if you need me," reads one of his advertisements on a bench in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Mr. Gaines, who may have been the city's most prominent criminal defense lawyer through the late 1970s and 1980s - he certainly had the most memorable television ads - resigned as a Municipal Court judge in 1996. He said at the time he intended to become "a witness for Jesus" after seeing the image of Jesus in a marble pillar in the courthouse.

About six months ago, he resumed his law practice.

Since leaving the bench after nearly three years in February 1996, Mr. Gaines has: worked as an evangelist, a motivational speaker and an author; founded a church (Everybody's Tabernacle in Walnut Hills), which he co-pastors; lost a lot of weight, and regained some; divorced; suffered two heart attacks and a stroke; remarried - and became a father again.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... ?
This is the debut of a periodic Metro feature that will revisit past newsmakers. If you have a candidate for this feature, call William A. Weathers at 768-8390, or e-mail bweathers@enquirer.com

"I'm back practicing law," said Mr. Gaines - who will celebrate his 58th birthday Feb. 13 - during an interview in his law office in the American Building on Central Parkway, near the courthouse. "Little Maliyah (his 15-month-old daughter with wife, Jennifer Lee Gaines) is my main inspiration for returning. I look forward to working another 30 years to take care of her.

"I never thought I would (return), but I never thought I'd have a new baby. I'm very, very happy to be back."

Mr. Gaines, known for his booming baritone voice, girth (anywhere from 250 to 300 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame), and black derby hat - as well as a practice that included representing about 75 homicide defendants - says he is concentrating on criminal matters and civil accident cases.

While no longer quite the fiery swashbuckler, Mr. Gaines said he still gives his clients their money's worth.

BEYOND THE BENCH
Mr. Gaines and wife, Deborah, arrived in Cincinnati in July 1971 to begin a two-year fellowship working as Legal Aid lawyers.

Between 1975 and 1993, Mr. Gaines worked as a criminal defense attorney, which included nearly 75 homicide cases

In April 1993, Mr. Gaines became a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge after he was appointed to fill a vacancy.

Mr. Gaines resigned from the bench in February 1996 to become an evangelist and motivational speaker.

In May 1998, Mr. Gaines founded Everybody's Tabernacle, a Gilbert Avenue church that he co-pastors.

In 2001, Mr. Gaines published How to Die and Live to Tell About It!

"I work as hard now as I did 30 years ago. I'm 58 years old and starting over. It's a different place and time. Now I'm more like an old Ben Matlock. In my younger days, I was like Perry Mason."

Joe Deters, Ohio treasurer and former Hamilton County prosecutor, said he expects Mr. Gaines will do well.

"Les is very talented, very bright. He represents his clients quite well," Mr. Deters said. "I think he'll do a great job. He was always a formidable opponent - but he was very fair, and I consider him a good friend."

Business is going pretty well, said Mr. Gaines, the first lawyer in the country to advertise his services on television following a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision ("Call me if you need me" was his signature line). He is still trying to get the word out that he's back.

"A lot of people don't know I'm back practicing because so many people (still) call me `Judge.' "

While away from the courtroom, Mr. Gaines has remained busy with motivational speaking, writing, pastoring, and community activism.

"I spent six months after the riots walking in Over-the-Rhine to try to help save lives and stop the violence," Mr. Gaines said. Although the violence continues in the neighborhood, "from what I've been told, I had an impact," he said.

A combination of medication, proper diet and exercise has helped the author of the inspirational book How to Die and Live to Tell About It! recover from the effects of two heart attacks and a stroke, and his health is the best it has been in 15 years.

Now, he says, "I feel stronger."

Since he left the bench in 1996, Mr. Gaines and his former wife and law partner, Deborah, a former Common Pleas Court judge, have divorced. They have two grown children. Mr. Gaines married Jennifer in December 2000, and their family (her three young daughters and the couple's 18-month-old daughter), reside in West Chester.

E-mail bweathers@enquirer.com




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