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2005's legal highlights -- and lowlights

By Kendall Coffey
Special to CNN

Attorney and legal analyst Kendall Coffey shares his best and worst list for 2005.

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Miami lawyer Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney and frequent CNN guest analyst, takes a wry look at the best and worst the legal world had to offer in 2005.

Best defendant: Martha Stewart could have postponed prison until the conclusion of her long-shot appeal. Instead, she continued to hold her head high, serving her time while appealing her crime. As a result, her business survives, her career thrives, and even if her dark-horse appeal never reaches the finish line, she has gained a new book deal, television shows and a forgiving public.

Best performance at a confirmation hearing: John Roberts became the chief justice of the United States, setting the gold standard for Supreme Court nominees. He avoided specific positions while displaying a masterful command of the issues and the image of a middle-aged Boy Scout. He was the year's toughest act to follow, turning Harriet Miers, an otherwise decent nominee, into a political punching bag and setting the stage for Judge Samuel Alito, who reprises Roberts' substance if not his engaging presence.

Best press conference: Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and discussed the charges in clear and objective terms without spinning or hyping, a welcome example of "just the facts, ma'am." This was not only an impressive start for a challenging case but also a great message for Bush's Justice Department. Fitzgerald showed tenacity and integrity rather than pulling punches or showboating for the cameras.

Best example of why defendants shouldn't testify: Early on in his criminal case, Robert Blake kept changing attorneys because he wanted to tell his story to the whole world about his wife's slaying. When the murder trial started though, his attorneys kept him off the stand and created a reasonable doubt by attacking dubious prosecution witnesses. Later in the year, Blake testified at length during his civil trial, showing more defensiveness, sarcasm and belligerence than grief. The result: Blake was acquitted of the criminal charges but hammered for $30 million in the civil case. The big question: Will he be moving to South Florida to join O.J. Simpson?

Worst year for CEO defendants: It's getting very lonely at the top for CEOs. WorldCom's former boss, Bernie Ebbers, was convicted for an $11 billion fraud and sentenced to 25 years. Tyco's ex-CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, was nailed for stealing hundreds of millions and sentenced for up to 25 years. Adelphia's founder, 80-year-old John Rigas, received a 15-year sentence in federal prison. Even the one who seemed to get away faces a rematch. HealthSouth Corp.'s founder, Richard Scrushy, was acquitted of fraud charges in June but later was indicted on new charges.(Watch Cofffey's lowlights -- 2:51)

Worst witness: The accuser's mom in the Michael Jackson trial combined theatrics, bluster and more baggage than a busy airport in late December. Her one-woman wrecking crew not only battered her family's credibility but also caused collateral damage to the rest of the prosecution in the child molestation case. As a result, to the surprise of many, Jackson moon-danced out of court, and the mom now faces welfare fraud charges.

Worst defendant (United States): "BTK" killer Dennis Rader's cold-blooded account of 10 murders during his guilty plea reflected self-satisfaction rather than remorse and became great advertising for those who believe that even life in prison is not punishment enough for some criminals.

Worst defendant (international): With Saddam Hussein's combination of predictable diatribes and trivial complaints about things such as his clothes, his trial strategy of going AWOL was a welcome respite.

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