President's Message

“Lawyers are hungry for heroes. And they are hard to find.” So wrote James W. McElhaney in the July, 1992 issue of the ABA Journal in his article about Clarence Darrow’s representation of Dr. Henry Sweet. While I certainly agree with the first sentence, I don’t necessarily agree with the second. “Hero”, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a person who is “noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.” Such a person usually “possesses special skills and has demonstrated a particular character trait admired by others. “

I am certain that each of us have our own personal heroes: our father, our mother, others who have personally made a difference in each of our lives. But in terms of a lawyer, who would you consider as a hero?   We could all probably recite a few of the obvious names such as   Clarence Darrow, Thurgood Marshall and Samuel Liebowitz to name but three from history. More recently, Gerry Spence, Johnny Cochran and Dick Deguerin come to my mind. But I think we may be looking too high to find the real heroes of our profession.

Last January in Birmingham, Alabama, I saw 254 real heroes. All in one place, at one time, with one purpose in mind: TO SAVE LIVES ! It was an uncommon gathering of the most uncommon of people: those who care more for others than they do themselves; those who do not measure success by the size of their bank accounts, but rather by the number of lives they can save; those who came together for the sole purpose of learning, sharing and teaching how to better represent those accused of the worst of crimes. Each of them with the full knowledge that if the damned have no rights, neither do the righteous.

Yes, last January in Birmingham, I saw heroes of every race and gender. There were no capes, no crowns and not a single one of them demonstrated the ability to fly, but they were real super heroes nevertheless. I saw some of the lawyers I look up to and consider mentors and examples to follow, all of whom played a vital role in assembling an outstanding series of speakers and attracting what is believed to be the largest gathering of capital case defense lawyers in the history of ACDLA. None of this would have been possible without the incomparable leadership and hard work of Chairman Richard Jaffe, all the members of the Death Penalty Committee and our Executive Director Mary Beth Wyatt.

These 254 lawyers separated themselves from the herd by becoming, as Darrow said, ”the attorneys for the damned.” All of us should be very proud that we still have lawyers who exhibit courage, nobility of character and who possess those special skills that it takes to save lives. I myself am particularly proud that I don’t have to look very far at all to see real heroes; the roles of ACDLA are full of them.

If you missed the Death Penalty Seminar, or you just need to recharge your batteries for the fights which lie in front of us all, don’t forget to attend ACDLA’s Summer Seminar, which returns to the beach in June. See you there.

Paul Young

President, ACDLA