Love and the Law
03/06/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
IN A COZY RENTAL HOME A BLOCK off Dixie Highway in Coral Gables, Fla., just outside Miami, the bottom half of a plastic mannequin dressed in a red garter belt and fishnet stockings—a relic from a Valentine's Day bash a couple of weeks back—stands abandoned at the bar. Pumpkin, a 15-month-old Doberman with a faux-pearl choker around her neck, ignores the truncated doll as she trots by to check out the scene in the family room.
There the mistress of the house playfully poses astride a 300-pound gold-plated alligator and cuddles with her man. She fusses for a moment with the graying hair at his temple, then gives him a long, loving smooch. "He kisses good, really," she says with a giggle. "But not enough. I wrote him a training manual: 32 Dos and Don'ts."
"But I didn't sign it," he counters. "Oral contracts are not valid."
Actually, they often are. But who's quibbling? Roy Black rarely loses an argument. The Miami defense attorney earned a reputation for his avuncular courtroom style and rose to national prominence when he masterminded the acquittal of William Kennedy Smith on rape charges in 1991. He is currently representing Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, who has been accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl in 1993. Contracts aren't usually Black's specialty. Yet astonished friends and colleagues have just learned that he did sign one four months ago in a secret marriage ceremony at the South Seas Plantation on Captiva Island off Florida's west coast.
There, beneath a stunning golden red sunset, Black, 50—Today show O.J. Simpson trial commentator and University of Miami law professor—was married by a notary public. The bride? His girlfriend of 2½ years, Lisa Lea' Haller, 40, owner of Lea Cosmetics International, Inc.—and, oh yes, a juror at the Kennedy Smith rape trial.
Haller was, in fact, one of the most memorable characters to emerge from the nationally televised trial. Afterward, well-spoken and telegenic, she appeared on such shows as Donahue, talking about her courtroom experience. Still, the Haller-Black union "begs the question of how they met," says Moira Lasch, the prosecutor who lost to Black in the Kennedy Smith case. Lasch sounds stern for a second—then breaks into laughter; she is only teasing her old opponent. During a trial lawyers are prohibited from communicating with jurors outside the courtroom—but no one, including Lasch, believes Black broke any rules. Says Miami attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a friend of Black's: "They started dating after the trial," he says. "There was absolutely no impropriety whatsoever."
So why did they keep their wedding a secret till now? The only reason, says Black, is that they didn't want to take the edge off their family wedding, which was to have taken place at their main residence, a historic home on the Grenada golf course in Coral Gables. But renovations there are taking longer than expected, they say, and before a date could be set, fate intervened in the form of a burglar who broke into their rental home on Jan. 13, stealing jewelry, silverware and personal belongings. The couple filed a police report, listing themselves as Lea' (as she spells it) and Roy Black. Soon word that they were married hit the Miami gossip circuit. "It caught me by complete surprise," says Haller's friend and business associate Sandie Arrambide. "If I hadn't seen the certificate, I still wouldn't believe it."
Seeing was believing too when Haller walked into the Palm Beach County courtroom for the first time in October 1991. "She was very good-looking," Black recalls. But Black had no personal contact with the glamorous juror, he says, until she strolled into E.R. Bradley's Saloon in Palm Beach on Dec. 11, the night the not-guilty verdict came in. "Haller hugged and kissed all of us," says Pat McKenna, Black's private investigator during the trial, who adds that Haller left a few minutes later.
The story would have ended there had Black and Haller not run into each other at a bar in the Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables about nine months later. Black was then recently separated from his second wife, Naomi Morris Black, whom he had married in 1984 and with whom he has a 10-year-old daughter, his only child. Lea', divorced from her first husband since 1983, was romantically involved with her business associate Al Perkins. But when the distinguished attorney asked her to dinner, she accepted. "I thought we were going to reminisce about the trial," she says.
Six months later she broke off with Perkins and started dating Black. "I was shocked that I would ever go with a lawyer—and shocked that he would be interested in me," says Haller. As she saw it, they lived in different worlds. Black, an only child whose parents divorced when he was young, grew up in New York City and later the Bahamas and became a nationally renowned legal powerhouse. Haller—the oldest of four sisters born to Lonnie and Marilyn Douthit (now divorced and remarried) in Waco, Texas—was a savvy saleswoman with a penchant for flashy clothes (including her wedding dress, which she describes as "a clinging see-through knit") who had quit college to work. "Roy is brilliant," she says. "I'm not."
She does, however, give herself credit for founding Lea Cosmetics, which now does about $2.5 million in annual sales, back in 1981. "Originally I was not going to play a real active role in it," she says. "I was going to be the spokesperson. It was my brainstorm, I guess."
"Your brainchild," her husband gently suggests.
"Good," says his wife. "See how smart he is?"
The admiration is mutual. "Lea' is the warmest, most open person I know," says Black. He trusts her taste—"She chooses all my clothes"—as well as her instincts. "I drag her along on cases to size people up for me," says Black. "Lea' has the ability to sense what other people are like. I don't have that."
Says Mark Schnapp, one of Black's co-counsels during the Kennedy trial: "I see a much livelier Roy now." Black agrees. "Before I met Lea'," he says, "I was more bookish, more self-contained. She helps you bring yourself out."
"We have the perfect relationship, really," says Haller. "We don't nag each other. We are very compatible—other than his being a little messy."
That, and the question of Pumpkin's ears. "I would love to have them pierced," says Lea' with a laugh, reaching down to give her pooch a nuzzle. "But Roy won't let me." Ah, another victory for the defense—in more ways than one. "After 25 years as a criminal defense attorney you get very cynical about life," says Black. "Lea' is the opposite. She always looks for the best in people. She brings me optimism."
KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
DON SIDER and MEG GRANT in Coral Gables