Lawyer Earl Gray is not your average cup of tea

Gray is known for his outrageous courtroom tactics and emotional style.

Jake Grovum

It can be said that Earl Gray doesn’t just defend his clients in court – he puts the prosecution, itself, on trial.

With his unconventional courtroom actions, the defense attorney from St. Paul has made a name for himself by taking high-profile cases. He represented Daunte Culpepper in the “love boat” scandal and, more recently, former Gophers football player Dominic Jones.

While his persona is sometimes eccentric and larger than life, Gray says he takes his job seriously.

“If you’re going to do something half-assed, you do it half-assed,” he said. “You’re representing people that could end up in prison, jail; it’s a pretty awesome responsibility.”

‘He’s the same way in a bar as he is in the courtroom’

Throughout the course of the Jones trial, Gray frequently sparred with the Hennepin County prosecutors and tested the boundaries of court rulings.

While some say that shows disregard for judicial authority, Gray attributes his style to his personality and the responsibility of his job, above all else.

“I’m an aggressive person,” he said. “I’m not going to let somebody run over my client. I’m not going to allow that.”

Despite his rationale, assistant Hennepin County attorney Martha Holton Dimick said Gray’s actions were disrespectful to the legal system.

“I’ve never seen such blatant violation of court orders,” she said. “It’s one thing to be over the top or dramatic or theatrical, but I was surprised that he’d so obviously disregard Judge (Marilyn) Rosenbaum’s orders.”

The Jones trial was Holton Dimick’s first case against Gray and, while she admits she’d heard plenty about him, she wanted to see for herself.

“Sometimes the stories get bigger and bigger and bigger the more you hear them,” she said. “I certainly was not disappointed with what I saw and what I heard.”

The Jones trial was not Gray’s first foray into representing Gophers athletes. He and fellow defense attorney Joe Friedberg represented former Gophers football players Steven Watson and Mackenzy Toussaint in a sexual assault case in 2001.

The trial added to the long list of cases the two lawyers tried together, Friedberg said.

In the 35 years they’ve known each other, Friedberg said he’s gotten used to Gray’s courtroom style, although he doesn’t try to emulate him.

“He’s bigger than I am so he can be more intimidating,” he said. “His style is significantly more emotional than mine is. It’s very effective.”

Clearly recalling a case in which Gray’s client was “dead in the water,” Friedberg said his own client still had a chance.

Prior to closing arguments, Friedberg told Gray not to take all the emotion from the courtroom with his final statements, so as not to steal Friedberg’s thunder.

Three minutes into his closing argument, Friedberg said, Gray slammed his fist down onto the court’s VCR and destroyed it.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m a trained seal act and I’m following Frank Sinatra,” Friedberg said. “He’s the same way in a bar as he is in the courtroom.”

‘I couldn’t find my way around if I left’

Gray’s been practicing law in Minnesota since 1970. Born and raised in St. Paul, he’s spent his entire life in the Twin Cities.

“I couldn’t find my way around if I left,” he said.

Long before he represented high-profile athletes, Gray worked in the basement of the University’s law school, writing briefs and investigating cases while attending William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

After law school, Gray worked as a Hennepin County public defender, trying as many as three misdemeanor cases in a day, which gave him the experience of trying cases “off the seat of my pants,” he said.

After his time there, he moved to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Minneapolis, but after a two-year stint, moved to a private practice.

After three years at another law firm, Gray ventured out on his own.

“I couldn’t get along with anybody,” Gray said, laughing.

Along the way to becoming one of the most prominent defense attorneys in Minnesota, Gray has been married four times and has six children, ranging in age from 13 to 41.

While his reputation precedes him and much has been said about Gray both personally and professionally, perhaps Friedberg’s comments best summed up his long-time friend.

“He’s just a very, very aggressive criminal lawyer,” Friedberg said.

Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.