To Croatians, General Ante Gotovina is a hero, a symbol of the country's independence after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
To Serbians, he's a genocidal war criminal as a leader of Operation Storm, a four-day battle for Croatian independence that triggered a mass Serbian exodus in 1995.
Gotovina's 24-year prison sentence imposed by The Hague's International Criminal Tribunal was reversed earlier this month in a stunning acquittal. Thousands of Croatians celebrated in Zagreb's central square as they watched a live broadcast of the U.N. court proceeding in The Hague.
Gotovina owes his freedom largely to Greenberg Traurig partner Greg Kehoe, a Tampa, Fla., litigator who led the defense team, along with his co-counsel, Joe Reeder of Greenberg Traurig's Washington office and Luka Misetic, a Chicago solo attorney.
Gotovina hired the three lawyers six years ago, shortly after he was apprehended after years of hiding in Europe. Kehoe and Reeder represented the former general, who was tried along with a junior general, Mladen Markac, in 2011.
Kehoe's team lost at trial before the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal, which took place from March 2008 until September 2010.
But the lawyers were victorious when the case went before a five-judge appellate panel. The panel ruled 3-2 to acquit both generals.
"The case involved a Croatian army military operation to retake Croatian land held by the Serbs," Kehoe said. "The prosecution's case was focused on their contention that artillery was used to expel the civilian population. The facts established that the artillery attacks were directed on military targets and caused no civilian deaths or injuries."
Markus Wagner, an associate professor of international law at the University of Miami School of Law, said that while the trial court looked at the totality of the evidence, the appellate court "interpreted the case much more narrowly."
Still, the 139-page appellate ruling was hardly unanimous, he noted.