Sunday, January 17, 2010

For MLK Day: Public Defender Heroes

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism,

or the darkness of destructive selfishness.

This is the judgment.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,

What are you doing for others?”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

About a year ago, a lawyer posted a question on a criminal-law list-serve that I belong to, seeking names of "public defender heroes." While I don't remember who posted the question, or many of the names submitted (except that I learned that Joe Biden had been a pd for a brief time), I do remember being struck by the lack of generally accepted or even proposed PD heroes. How is it that many public defenders are the bravest, smartest, and most altruistic people I know, and yet their legacy of inspiration for those of us in the trenches goes unheralded.

In honor of MLK day, PDR honors Public Defender Heroes--public defenders who have inspired us with their bravery, skill, stubbornness, resilience and heart. PDR's heroes are limited by geography and personal experience, and we invite you (please!) to submit names of your PD heroes. If you send a picture (or we can find one on the net) we'll post that, too.

Another note: here in remote Eastern Washington, the criminal defense world has long been a boys' club (many of our favorite boys are in this club, don't get us wrong), but we have an embarrassing lack of women defenders to submit as heroes--so, please, send us your women defender heroes!


Young lawyers at the Spokane County Public Defenders' Office mock old-timers when they mention Richard L. "Dick" Cease, founding director of the office. "We know," they say, "when Dick was here, the sun was shining and the birds were singing--there were whiskey rivers and cigarette trees." Dick has a gentle demeanor and the heart of a lion; he was also able to inspire new lawyers to become great lawyers, with many of his proteges dedicating their careers to public defense. He was one of the first directors of a public defender office to file suit against the county to obtain additional lawyers for his office--a bold move, considering he served at the pleasure of the county commissioners.

Dick Cease, you are our Hero!


Terence "Terry" MacCarthy, director of the Chicago Federal Defenders for 42 years, is famous for his mastery and teaching of cross-examination. (Look good, damnit!) He generously tries to show us all how easy it is to be as good as he is.

Out of thousands of worthy anecdotes, we highlight one Terry MacCarthy story--one that demonstrates his insight into the crucial aspect of independence in PD offices, his ability to out-lawyer even the federal judges he practiced in front of, and his cojones for doing this on his first day of a new job:

In 1966, together with former Chief Judge William J. Campbell, Terry helped create the first federal defender office in the country. But he would not agree to head the office without first obtaining the Board of Trustees’ promise to follow the ABA Standards. Once they made this promise, Terry promptly asked all of the judges on the Board to resign. “The ABA Standards say that judges can’t serve on the Board,” he told them. “It is important that the office be independent.”   Despite their shock, the judges resigned.
Terry MacCarthy, you are our hero!


As a brand-new lawyer, I stumbled into a portion of a trial Jeff Robinson was conducting--if I remember correctly, Jeff questioned the state's expert witness, a doctor (who also taught at UW), until the doctor admitted under the carefully crafted and elegant examination that he was wrong about the cause of death. I remember thinking, Wow, that was great. I want to do that, too! I'm still waiting for the chance, which I am sure will come, since Jeff made it look effortless.

Not only is Jeff Robinson gracious, kind, humble and the recipient of every award available to a lawyer, he also bought PDR's donated criminal-defense-themed Holiday Tree at this year's WACDL party. Thanks, Jeff, you made us feel much cooler than we actually are, and,

Jeff Robinson, you are our hero!


Acknowledged by all who've had a chance to watch him as "the best trial lawyer they've ever seen," Roger J. Peven possesses the rare combination of a brilliant mind, irreverent wit, and lovable demeanor. "Would you like to just go ahead and climb into the jury box with the jurors?" I once heard a judge ask him. Director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington, Roger has the subtle intelligence necessary to lead a talented group of authority-questioning public defenders, and he also has the heart to represent clients in drug court, who see him as a friend as well as their lawyer. All of this, and he continues to thrive, despite having a wife who is a complete pain in the ass.

Roger Peven, you are our hero!

Please submit your Public Defender Heroes to, or in a comment. PDR will leave the Heroes Post open through Wednesday, and will update the blog with new Heroes. Also, PDR will make a poster out of the submitted heroes, and mail those who submitted a Hero (and we deem worthy) a FREE BONUS PRIZE of a copy of the poster. QUANTITIES MAY BE LIMITED! ACT NOW!


Skelly said...

You lost me at Roger Peven.

I imagine Peven wasn't lovable to our colleagues in Coeur d'Alene during the Duncan case.

Allison said...

I have just found your blog today and have been laughing to the point that people are stopping by office checking to see if I am ok!

I would LOVE to purchase (even on my PD salary) a "Terry MscCarthy is my hero" poster for me and for some friends, as he is our hero. If a poster is available please let me know.

Keep fighting the good fight and keep blogging the truth!

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