Allen Ruby is used to flamboyant wrestling matches pitting one larger-than-life character against another — and not just in the courtroom.
Barry Bonds' lead lawyer has a background unfamiliar to most attorneys, one that prepared him for rough exchanges and life in the glare of the spotlight.
"My dad was a wrestler, and then a wrestling booking agent and a wrestling booking promoter," he said. "Way before Vince McMahon. And it was a family business, so I wrestled and announced and did various things in and around the business basically until I went to law school.
Son of Bert Ruby — aka "The Magyar Hercules" — Allen Ruby knows a thing or two about showmanship. That comes in handy as he tries to clear his seven-time NL MVP client of charges he lied to a federal grand jury when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Raising and lowering his resonant, baritone voice, inflecting it with irony and sarcasm at times, Ruby commands the courtroom. When he walks back to the rest of his team — a dozen fill two tables and the first row of seats — to get a manila folder with copies of exhibits, he lifts the papers dramatically and hands copies to the prosecution and the judge's clerk as the jury watches. He rocks back slightly during questions in cross-examination when expressing incredulity.
"The truth is, is it not, is that you recorded Dr. (Arthur) Ting to gather information ... to extort Barry?" he asked Steve Hoskins, Bonds' former business partner.
Ruby wrestled professionally on weekends and summers before going to Stanford Law School. He eventually found himself on a different strand of the sports business. The NFL hired him as one of its lawyers to defend a $1 billion-plus lawsuit filed by the Oakland Raiders, who claimed they were forced out of Southern California after the 1994 season and never reimbursed for the market rights it relinquished.
He prevailed on behalf on the NFL and has gone on to other high-profile cases. In 2007, he succeeded in getting the case dismissed against Ron Gonzales, who while San Jose mayor had been indicted on charges of bribery in an alleged deal with a waste management company.
"Allen Ruby came highly recommended, and did not disappoint," said Joe Browne, senior adviser to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "He is a man of unquestionable integrity, who is disciplined, motivated and tireless. Not only does he have superb judgment and courtroom presence, but he is a terrific communicator. He gets to the heart of a matter quickly."
Not all praise is so effusive. Bobby Ghajar, a lawyer who represented Intel Corp. in a case against Dualcor Technologies Inc., which hired Ruby, responded to an email request for comment tersely: "I will say this about Allen: He has an unmistakable presence." Ghajar would say no more.
Ruby, who turns 66 in July, wanted to be a lawyer since his playground days.
"I was 7 years old and talking about being a lawyer. I can't imagine an occupation where you have this kind of opportunity to meet so many interesting and in many cases very accomplished people," he said. "I always liked to listen to people talk. And I have to confess I always enjoyed talking myself. And it just seemed like, even from a kid's perspective, that being a lawyer involved a lot of those things."
It's rubbed off on his family. Married to Cynthia since 1972, they have two children. Sarah, who is 31, is a lawyer. Daniel, who is 27, is a third-year student in law school.
Ruby grew up in Detroit and went to Michigan State. While he didn't realize it at the time, a turning point came when he decided to go to Stanford Law School.
"That was a fluke," he said. "I thought I was going to go East, and one slushy Midwestern day, it turned out I was going to go West. I'd never been West before. I'd never been West of Chicago. California was quite a change."
He did return to Michigan to clerk for Charles Levin of the Michigan Supreme Court, but then decided to start a small law firm with friends from law school.
When his partner retired, Ruby decided last year to discontinue his San Jose-based Ruby & Schofield and became a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, one of the world's largest firms. He knew some people at Skadden when he worked on the NFL case. (In a coincidence, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who is presiding on the Bonds' trial, also worked for the NFL when she was a young lawyer at Cotchett, Illston & Pitre in Burlingame).
"It doesn't take long to figure out why Allen is so good in front of a jury," said David Zornow, Skadden's global head of litigation. "I think he's got a commanding presence. He's unpretentious. He's the kind of person who talks to a jury in plain language, takes complicated facts and makes them understandable to a nonlawyer, a person who exudes credibility and belief in what he's saying."
He's done a lot of work for tech firms in Silicon Valley. Despite all he's done before, no case has brought him the attention of USA v. Bonds, in which the government charges the home run king of lying to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
He wouldn't necessarily consider a victory his greatest win. Ruby said he doesn't put his successes in any particular order.
"I think in order to be in court, you constantly face the reality of disappointment, and if you think in terms — boy, this is disappointing or that's not disappointing — I think you can drive yourself crazy," he said. "So I remember the cases where I wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and think about them, but I don't rate them or rank them."