The Today Show - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

"Lin Wood on a mission"
Posted by jams on Jul-13-00 at 08:49 AM (EST)

TODAY (7:00 AM ET)
July 12, 2000, Wednesday


MATT LAUER, co-host: Who do you turn to when you're looking to get your reputation back? Well, more and more high-profile clients are choosing Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, who is being called one of the toughest lawyers in the business. So we asked our national correspondent Jamie Gangel to find out a little bit more about him.

JAMIE GANGEL reporting:

Forty-seven years old, Atlanta attorney Lin Wood is one of the fiercest advocates in the business.

Fair to say you don't have the biggest law firm in Atlanta?

Mr. LIN WOOD: Not at all.

GANGEL: You're not the richest lawyer in Atlanta.

Mr. WOOD: Not at all.

GANGEL: But when opponents hear that you're coming on to a case, they go, 'Oh, no.'

Mr. WOOD: Well, you know, good. I want my opponents to know that when they deal with me, that they are dealing with someone that is basically on a crusade, a cause. I want them to know that I'm going to give that case, that cause, my best efforts, that it's not going to be easy for them.

GANGEL: That may be an understatement. Wood's crusades have made him a rising star in legal circles.

Mr. WOOD: Do you not see what these people were going to do?

GANGEL: Among his clients, former security guard Richard Jewell, falsely accused of being the Olympic Park bomber.

Mr. WOOD: I still have friends around the country, relatives that'll say--you know, kind of nudge you and say, 'So, come on,' you know, 'Tell me, did he do it? Did he do it and get away with it?' You know, when you shout, 'Guilty,' and you shout it so loudly, it's difficult to ever overcome the damage of that shout.

GANGEL: But Wood's lawsuits certainly have helped. He forced the FBI to publicly admit Jewell was not a suspect and won close to a million dollars in settlements with news organizations that covered the story, including NBC.

More recently, Wood is representing John and Patsy Ramsey, who've been embroiled in suspicion over the death of their daughter, JonBenet. Hired to clear their names, he had them take two polygraph tests. The first was inconclusive, the second they passed. Wood also negotiated a settlement against the Star, a tabloid that alleged their son Burke was involved in the murder.

You have a philosophy about apologies in cases like this, that an apology is nice, but it's not enough?

Mr. WOOD: Yeah, I think someone quoted me saying that you can't spend 60 percent of--of an apology. That doesn't mean that I don't want or believe that my clients are entitled to an apology. But usually, the media just doesn't want to acknowledge when it makes a mistake. So along comes Lin Wood, and here we go. Lawsuit.

GANGEL: But behind the tough legal wrangling, Wood admits he also takes each case personally because of his own past. Lin Wood grew up in Macon, Georgia, a straight-A student and good athlete. But his life was always in turmoil because his parents were both alcoholics, and often violent.

Mr. WOOD: I would call it a nightmare. It was almost as if you felt like you lived a Jeckyll and Hyde existence. You--you come here at night and--and you'd listen to the fighting and the beatings, and so many nights you'd go to the neighbors' homes and have the police called, and yet you'd get up the next day and go to school and you'd act like nothing was wrong. Nobody talked about it, but everybody knew.

GANGEL: Then one night when Wood was 16 years old, he came home to find his father had killed his mother.

Mr. WOOD: I knew right away that they'd had a fight, and I knew it had to be bad. I looked into my parents' bedroom, my mother was lying in the bed. She was not clothed. She had a sheet pulled up over her. And it was obvious from the hallway looking in that she was dead. And I turned and said to my father, 'What have you done?' I walked into the bedroom and beside her, lifted her wrist, felt, knew that she was, in fact, dead. So, I came back out into the kitchen and called the police, and--not an ambulance, and said, 'My father has killed my mother. Please come to my house.'

GANGEL: After the police arrived, he tried to protect his sister, Diane, from the scene he had just witnessed.

Mr. WOOD: I was inside with the two detectives and I had talked to them about not telling--about not telling Diane, letting me tell her. And I remember I was in the living room and I heard her screaming. And I came out and we actually embraced halfway here in the yard, fell to the ground, because someone had told her. She said, 'What happened?' I said, 'Your father's killed your mother.' So, from there it was a--a long night.

GANGEL: Lin Wood had to grow up fast. He hired a lawyer for his father, who pled guilty to manslaughter and went to prison. Then he worked his way through college and law school, graduating with honors.

Mr. WOOD: My parents taught me a lot of good things, in a positive way, but I would probably say they taught me more by teaching me what not to do and how not to live.

GANGEL: Today, Wood's life has finally settled down. After three unsuccessful marriages, he is happily married to his fourth wife Debby, and is a devoted father to his four children.

Mr. WOOD: You got it?

GANGEL: And while his high-profile cases have made him something of a celebrity in Atlanta, with articles describing his 'movie star looks,' his family makes sure he keeps his sense of humor.

Unidentified Boy: Movie star handsome, with green eyes and styled hair.

GANGEL: And what do you get for saying that?

Boy: He gives us a dollar every time.

GANGEL: What is he like at home?

DEBBY: He is--I mean, he's--he's father. I mean, he wears a suit at work and he comes home and he puts on his casual clothes, and he's Dad.

Mr. WOOD: I think I'm a lawyer 24 hours a day with maybe a 10-minute break every once in awhile. But Debby does remind me to sometimes take off the lawyer hat.

GANGEL: Debby, what happens when you get into an argument with him? What's it like?

DEBBY: We don't argue.

GANGEL: You don't argue?

DEBBY: Lin will argue, but I don't.

GANGEL: Because?

DEBBY: It's just a waste of time.

GANGEL: Something his opponents have had to learn the hard way. Lin Wood plays hardball. On weekends and in court, his competitive nature always in the forefront. And while it's often cloaked in a soft-spoken Southern style, Wood has redefined what it means to be 'in your face.'

Mr. WOOD: The way to avoid that is what? I have no specific recollection.

GANGEL: Is it true that you got so close to the Atlanta Journal's lawyer face to face?

Mr. WOOD: Nose to nose.

GANGEL: Nose to nose, that your noses were touching?

Mr. WOOD: Yeah, it was actually true. I got in his face, and the next thing I know, I realized my nose was touching his nose. And I thought, 'Well, you know, you're in it now, here we go.'

GANGEL: One Atlanta lawyer said your appearance can be deceptive. 'He may win the beauty contest, but he's never going to be Miss Congeniality.' And he meant that as a compliment.

Mr. WOOD: And I accept it as a compliment. I'm not going to be the winner of the congeniality award. Again, I'm not--I'm not in this business, I'm not fighting the types of battles and wars for my clients to make friends. I'm doing it to achieve what I believe is justice.

GANGEL: Lin Wood's way of serving notice, he'll see you in court. For TODAY, Jamie Gangel, NBC News, Atlanta.

LAUER: There is also some news to report on the Ramsey case this morning. John and Patsy Ramsey have offered to meet separately in Atlanta with Boulder police and prosecutors investigating the death of their daughter JonBenet. Investigators formally requested this meeting back in May. Lin Wood made the offer, and Boulder police accepted with the stipulation that Patsy Ramsey go first. There are a few sticking points that remain to be worked out. But if Boulder police take the Ramseys up on their offer, the meeting would happen next month.