'Maximum Moira'

updated 08/12/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/12/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

BEFORE THE BAR, SHE SEEMS THE model of the perfect prosecutor: cool, organized and utterly unrelenting. But on occasion Moira Lasch, the 40-year-old lawyer at the center of the sensational William Kennedy Smith rape case, flashes an acerbic sense of humor. An accused rapist spat on her in 1985; next day she wore a raincoat to the trial. When that same defendant called her "a pointy-nosed, honky white bitch," she responded, "I do not have a pointy nose." And last April, when news of the incident at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach broke, Lasch phoned her mother. "Watch the newspapers," she said. "My summer's just been ruined."

As a rule, Maximum Moira, as she is known (because she often presses the most severe charges possible), is no joke in court, and her handling of the Smith case has already made that clear. She has poured on the heat from the start, even publicly criticizing Smith's uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, for making extensive changes in his police statement. Her most recent move was to drop a bombshell on the defense by asking Palm Beach Judge Mary Lupo to admit testimony from three women who claim Smith sexually assaulted them. "She's pretty tough," says her brother, John Kehoe, a construction-tools salesman in Bethesda, Md. "I've never seen her intimidated."

But he has seen her get angry, at least on one point. Do not—repeat, do not—call her moy ra. "That," says her brother, "will get her mad." It's more-a. She was named for actress and dancer Moira Shearer (The Red Shoes) because her mother, Angela, liked the name.

Lasch, who is under a court-imposed gag order, was the third of three sisters and a baby brother. Her father, John, is a physician in River-dale, Md.; her mother holds a master's degree in Latin. "Both my parents came out of the coalfields of Pennsylvania," her brother says. "Education was everything."

Moira did well in that department: high school at the all-girls Stone Ridge Country Day School in Bethesda, a summer at the Sorbonne in Paris, a degree from Vassar in 1973. She went to law school at the University of Maryland, where she met her future husband, dental student Alan Lasch, now 42. He graduated in 1976 and headed to Palm Beach. She followed a year later, and they were soon married.

In 1979 Lasch landed a job in the state attorney's office in West Palm Beach. Except for a sixth-month foray into private practice, she has been there ever since. Today she heads the felony division, supervising 30 attorneys. Her salary is $71,000 a year. "She could have made a lot more money in corporate law," says her friend Charles Vitunac, an attorney from Vero Beach. "But she said she
missed the excitement of the courtroom so much."

Lasch is a believer in early to bed (8 to 9 P.M.) and early to rise (4 to 5 A.M.). More often than not, she spends weekends and holidays in the office. For relaxation she works out, doing aerobics and trudging the Stairmaster. She is a vegetarian with a sweet tooth, who friends say is a sucker for a bag of M&M's. She keeps most people at arm's length. "Clearly her husband is her best friend," says Barry Krischer, a West Palm Beach defense attorney. "They have a unique relationship."

In court Lasch is something of a machine. But her extensive prep work may be too rigid. "She works better in a checker game than in a chess match," says Nelson Bailey, a Florida defense attorney who has gone up against Lasch and who believes she may be in over her head with the complicated Smith proceedings. "In this case there are too many machinations for her."

Lasch has taken a lot of heat for publicly filing the depositions of three women who say they were victims of Smith's attacks. (None of the women ever pressed criminal charges.) Many legal experts argue that even if the evidence is not admitted, Lasch has poisoned the jury pool forever. Others say it was a brilliant move because it could prevent Smith from successfully introducing character witnesses on his behalf. In the short run Lasch seemed to outmaneuver the defense. While the press reported details of the depositions, Smith's lawyers were prevented from responding publicly to the charges by the court's gag order. Such tactics will be the norm during his upcoming trial. "Criminality offends her," says Vitunac. "She gets great satisfaction out of seeing justice done."

JOE TREEN
MEG GRANT, LINDA MARX and DON SIDER in Palm Beach, SARAH SKOLNIK in Washington, D.C.

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