Jerry McDevitt Wild Card: How Does the McMahon Family’s Favorite Legal Attack Dog Play in Plainfield?

Jerry McDevitt, a partner in the Pittsburgh office of the K&L Gates law firm, is one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the country, and he has been a trusted counsel to Vince and Linda McMahon for many years. McDevitt is very good at what he does. In 1991 Hulk Hogan was among the many wrestlers of the then-World Wrestling Federation who were subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Dr. George Zahorian – a ringside doctor at wrestling shows in Pennsylvania who was the first physician indicted and convicted under the 1990 federal law criminalizing the prescription of steroids for non-therapeutic purposes. McDevitt succeeded in getting Hogan’s subpoena quashed.

In 1994 Vince McMahon himself was tried in federal court on drug-conspiracy charges. McDevitt was part of the defense team that secured McMahon’s acquittal.

During Linda McMahon’s campaign against Rob Simmons for the 2010 Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Chris Dodd, McDevitt is assuming a role long familiar to people in the wrestling world. McDevitt is the guy quoted with putdowns of the former McMahon employees (or, excuse me, independent contractors) who no longer talk in favorable terms about the most powerful promoters in their industry. With some of these characters, McDevitt has a pretty easy job, but again, he does it well. Above all, Vince and Linda like nothing more than news stories featuring their lawyer in debate with a bunch of carnies. The first family of wrestling has more important things to do – such as making money or, in this particular silly season, accruing political power to accompany their financial might and their absurd and pernicious influence on popular culture.

In this post I want to ask a more complicated question: How does the McDevitt factor play for Linda McMahon, at a technical level, in Connecticut Republican politics?

I call the question complicated for two reasons. Linda McMahon, like a lot of rich business people without firm ideological roots, has spread her wealth around more or less apolitically and agnostically. McDevitt’s own record illustrates this.

Further, we outsiders can’t help observing that the great state of Connecticut, the cradle of figures ranging from Phineas Taylor Barnum to Joseph Isadore Lieberman, is, shall we say, unique political turf.

Right now former Congressman Simmons, playing to the conservative primary base, is working to downplay his moderate voting record in the House of Representatives on certain issues, and has recast himself as a dead-red “tea party” Republican. For her part, McMahon is living down a history of campaign contributions to Democrats as well as Republicans. (Readers interested in how the subject was handled on this blog, long before I knew McMahon herself might some day herself run for office, should check out “Vince McMahon & Joe Lieberman: Morality-Play Tag-Team Partners,” October 30, 2007, https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/archive-103007-vince-mcmahon-joe-lieberman-morality-play-tag-team-partners/.)

Like the McMahons’, McDevitt’s scorecard in this area is mixed. The generous explanation is that he’s a switch hitter. The ungenerous one is that he’s a mercenary, a hired gun.

In the late 1980s, when the McMahons were seeking to deregulate pro wrestling in Pennsylvania, McDevitt worked with a young lawyer at his firm, then known as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. That WWF lobbyist, Rick Santorum, went on to get elected to two terms in the U.S. Senate and to gain a reputation as, arguably, that body’s most right-wing member. (See “Senate Candidate Linda McMahon, Former Senator Rick Santorum, and Pro Wrestling Deregulation,” December 9, https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/senate-candidate-linda-mcmahon-former-senator-rick-santorum-and-pro-wrestling-deregulation/).

Of course, in 2006 Santorum got trounced, by an  historic margin, in his bid for a third term. But I have no idea if he’s a dirty word these days in Connecticut Republican circles. Or in any case, any dirtier than, say, Joe Lieberman.

Back to McDevitt. As explained in the previous post, in 2008-09 he spearheaded the exoneration of Dr. Cyril Wecht, a rather idiosyncratic Pennsylvania coroner who was indicted on vague federal corruption charges. Along with former Republican Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (now of counsel at McDevitt’s firm), McDevitt successfully argued that the charges against Wecht, a Democrat, were politically motivated. The Wecht prosecution was widely considered a leading exhibit of the Bush Justice Department scandals involving numerous U.S. attorneys’ offices.

Does all this make McDevitt a squishy Republican? Or just another exemplar of Truth, Justice, and the American Way? As one who has sparred with ole Jerry’s ultra-litigious side, discretion calls for me to cast my vote for the latter. (For the full background of McDevitt’s legal threats to me during the research of my book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, see the archives of this blog and my Twitter feed, as well as the book itself and the companion DVD.)

The only firm conclusions you can draw are that politics do, indeed, make strange bedfellows, and that the political arena is a heck of a lot like the wrestling arena. In that respect, without a doubt, the McMahons are on to something.

Irv Muchnick

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