Street legal

Criminal defense attorney and radio host Lonny Bramzon (left) interviews guest Taso Saunders on Jan. 22 at Listen Vision Recording Studios.Photo by Josh Marks
Criminal defense attorney and radio host Lonny Bramzon (left) interviews guest Taso Saunders on Jan. 22 at Listen Vision Recording Studios.
Photo by Josh Marks

You can hear Lonny Bramzon from the street — literally.

The 35-year-old self-proclaimed “D.C. Street Lawyer” broadcasts an hour-long radio show from Listen Vision Recording Studios, across the street from Howard University, where a knee-high speaker outside the entrance of the red brick building carries his voice – a peculiar mix of hip-hop inflection and Latin legal terms – down Georgia Avenue.

Bramzon’s eclectic guests have included the District’s drug kingpin Cornell Jones, who was featured on BET’s true-crime documentary TV series American Gangster. At the age of 16, Jones was arrested and sent to a juvenile detention center for robbing a bank. When he was released from prison in 1975 he created the first “open air” drug market in the country, funneling drugs from Asia and Europe into the District. In 1979, Jones was arrested for heroin possession and spent two years in prison. He was busted again in 1985, when he met with a wired informant and was imprisoned from 1986 to 1995. Jones currently rehabilitates people who have finished serving prison time.

With his slick black hair, bespoke suits and a trilby hat, Bramzon looks like he belongs in the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra and the boys. He even talks old-school, mixing in lines from classic movies like Scarface.

Bramzon does not book current public enemies on his show, however. “I’m not here to get anybody in trouble. I’m here to talk about really interesting things that people want to hear about, want to learn about,” he says.

Some of the show’s guests have been convicted of selling drugs – and they’re his former clients, who share their stories.

“People don’t hear that real perspective. These guys did it. It’s the real deal, and we know they did it because there are the police reports, the evidence and the prison sentences to collaborate that,” says Bramzon. “So a lot of them I know personally and I say, ‘Hey, listen man, if there is anything you don’t want to talk about, we won’t talk about it. I’m not here to play gotcha with you or embarrass you.’”

The show streams live on from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Thursday.

All of this begs the question: How does a Stanford and Columbia-educated Jewish guy connect on his show with people convicted of crimes and charged with murder?

Bramzon grew up in South Florida listening to hip-hop music. He is the son of a Mexican-Jewish father who pushed him and his brother to excel at education because “nobody can take that away from you. Money and riches. That can all be taken from you. But your education never can be taken away.”

After college and law school, Bramzon got a real-world education in 2005 working for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, in the Baltimore City Jail, where the office, Bramzon says, was nicknamed “Vietnam.”

Bramzon often sat in a makeshift courtroom with people accused of violent crimes.

“Imagine eight guys charged with first degree murder literally sitting in that room. So that was really something. That’s really how I started out. So after working there for about a year-and-a-half nothing can surprise me or shock me.  I’ve seen people struggle to the most drastic extents a human can struggle,” he recounts.

Bramzon, who lives in Silver Spring, opened a private practice in 2006 in Prince George’s County. There, he helped a largely Latino clientele under what he calls a “dark cloud of deportation.” Representing undocumented workers was an eye-opening experience for Bramzon.

“I really got to see fascinating things about Central American culture and how immigrants survive and struggle in the United States,” Bramzon says.

He continued to build up his private criminal defense practice, but Bramzon also found time to build up his personal life, and met his future wife in 2006 as well.

In 2010, Rabbi Barry Freundel performed the marriage ceremony for Bramzon and his now-wife, D’Alizza Bramzon.

The couple is raising two children, with two dogs to keep them company. The family is affiliated with Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah.

Bramzon also makes hip-hop music videos – he recently collaborated with Philadelphia rapper Freeway on a song about addiction – and is in the midst of the third season of his radio show.

In addition, Bramzon can also be heard every Tuesday night on DC101, 101.1 FM, answering legal questions and discussing life in the streets.

“I’m really interested in what is going on in the streets,” says Bramzon. “I don’t like to stay in the clouds in this sort of intellectual realm with legalese and all that. No. I like to see what is going on in the streets, and I think that helps me as an attorney because when people are more comfortable sharing the details of things, a lot of times a good defense comes in those details and really understanding where this person is coming from makes for a much better

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