Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has worked as a reporter, an editor, newsroom administrator and editorial writer. Show More

The tragic death of innocents, four of them children, is no occasion for a circus. Yet, there he was, Dominic Barbara, lawyer and ringmaster extraordinaire, once again taking a show out on the road.

Barbara did most of the talking at last week's news conference - held under a tent. He said there had to be some reason, other than alcohol and drugs, to explain why Diane Schuler crashed her minivan into an SUV, killing the children and three innocent adults.

He tossed out stroke as a possibility, along with Schuler's history of gestational diabetes, a problem with a tooth and a lump in her leg "that moved."

This was vintage Barbara, the showman at his best.

During a news conference carried live, over television, radio and the Internet, he said there would be no questions about marijuana use. And, at one point, threatened a reporter that he wouldn't get in a question unless his hand was raised.

The scene would have been funny.

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Except that it wasn't.

Barbara is the skilled lawyer who transformed Joey Buttafuoco, a liar, marital cheat and convicted statutory rapist, into the bad boy next door.

Buttafuoco served 4 months for the statuary rape of Amy Fisher, who, at 16, had been so enamored of her 30-something boyfriend that she fired a bullet into the head of his wife, Mary Jo.

Mary Jo survived; the marriage didn't. But the couple was still together in 1992, when Barbara helped sell Joey's story to a tabloid TV show for half a million dollars.

Barbara excels at selling suburban sex and scandal to a national audience.

He transformed Jessica Hahn, a Massapequa church secretary who accused a nationally known minister of rape, into a Playboy bunny. Hahn helped bring down the Rev. Jim Bakker, who, in the 1980s, was the uber-pious leader of PTL - Praise the Lord - Ministries, one of the strongest conservative Christian organizations in the nation.

Hahn alleged Bakker raped her; Bakker alleged Hahn tried to blackmail him. Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in the scandal; Hahn, with Barbara's help, gained immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against Bakker. She also got $1 million in the Playboy deal.

The two cases propelled Barbara to fame. He appeared on Geraldo and Howard Stern. In an interview with Newsday in 1998, however, Barbara said he didn't need showy cases to build his business anymore.

"I'm older," he said. "I'm trying to calm it down."

By 2000, however, Barbara was a guest lawyer on the short-lived "Power of Attorney" TV show, which also featured Johnnie Cochran. And earlier this year, in a divorce case, Barbara represented a surgeon who wanted his wife to pay $1.5 million for the kidney he had given her.

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On Thursday, at a second impromptu news conference - that was not carried live, and not controlled by Barbara - a reporter did ask about Schuler's marijuana use. Barbara, in turn, asked if the reporter used marijuana.

Another reporter asked if it was possible that Diane Schuler drank at home, at night, when her husband - who on Thursday had tearfully defended her reputation - was away at work. Barbara, in turn, asked if it were possible that the reporter did the same thing, with heroin.

Another reporter, who said she was diabetic, challenged Barbara on the notion that diabetes could make people drink alcohol or use marijuana. Barbara, in turn, said he was a diabetic who ate candy when his blood sugar was low. "Sometimes maybe people self medicate," he said.

At one point, the master re-packager turned to face a radio reporter who kept insisting, loudly, that drug and alcohol use could be the cause of the horrific crash, too.

"To believe that," Barbara replied, with his trademark passion, "you would have to believe that a mother would drink and use drugs and put her children and her nieces in a car and drive. That doesn't make sense."

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He was facing away from the top of St. Patrick's Church, which peeked through the trees from across the street. Earlier this year, mourners gathered there for the funeral of a mother and her two daughters. They were killed in a hotel room outside Baltimore by a man, the mother's husband, the children's father.

No such horror makes sense.

But that doesn't mean they don't happen.

>> Click here to see new family photos of the Schulers, and photos from Daniel Schuler's press conference