Anna is the soul of humanity.
That’s what differentiates her,”
says attorney Lynanne Wescott.
“She cares, and her clients
on Nagasaki, Japan. She was the youngest
of four children; both older brothers had
distinguished careers in the Army, and her
sister became an anesthesiologist.
“It was tough following those three in
school,” Durbin says.
She went to Stanford University, where
she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in
1973. “I think being an English major was a
great background for being a criminal lawyer
because a lot of doing trials is about bringing
your clients’ stories to life,” Durbin says.
Along the way, her interest was piqued
by an undergraduate course in criminal
law. She took the LSAT and moved to the
East Coast to attend Yale Law School.
It was a bit of a culture shock. “After a
few days of law school, I was feeling very,
‘I don’t belong here; I don’t know what I’m
doing,’” Durbin says.
Then she wandered into the law
school’s clinic, which had programs for
law students to help prepare cases for the
poor, the mentally ill and prison inmates.
She was hooked.
“I think I learned as much from them,
writing and rewriting legal papers and
strategies, and talking the law with the
people running the clinic, as I did in class,”
she says. “You’d write something for them,
and they’d make you rewrite it 16 times
before they’d let it go.”
She’d found her place. The clinic also
happened to be where she met her
husband, criminal appellate lawyer Peter
Goldberger, with whom she now shares
offices. “They have a really neat working
relationship,” says Joyce Collier, a civil
lawyer who’s known Durbin for 12 years.
“They’re both autonomous, but their desks
are across the hall and they face each other.”
After the couple moved to Ardmore in
1978, Durbin spent a few years gaining trial
experience at the federal public defender’s
office. “For the first two cases I tried as a
federal defender, I was pretty scared out of
my mind,” she says. “After, almost nothing
could scare me.”
When Durbin and Goldberger started
their family—their first of three daughters
was born in 1982—Durbin began
working part time, mostly doing court
appointments and contract work for other
attorneys. In 1994, the year their youngest
daughter turned 4, Durbin went back into
the law full time.
“One of the best things about practicing
law for women is it’s a really flexible
profession,” she says of a lesson she
learned while clerking for Judge Norma
Shapiro, the first female federal district
judge in the state. “If the kids needed me
at school, I could be at school. It seemed
like judges would always appoint me to
some big trial when I was pregnant, and
then I would have money for maternity
leave. And at a certain point in your career,
you just like to be in charge of yourself.”
She wasn’t taking it easy on herself.
Durbin became an advocate for
defendants others would blanch at—like
professors accused of downloading child
pornography. “When you’re dealing with
your client, you’re just trying to find out
about their life and how they got there,”
she says. “When you relate to someone,
person to person, most of the time you can
find something positive about them.
“I think one of the most important jobs
as a lawyer is to find the human being in
your client,” Durbin adds. “When someone
asks you, ‘How can you do this work?’ it’s not
that I represent the crime—I represent the
person. And the truth is, all of us have done
things we in hindsight wouldn’t have done.”
In the child pornography case, Durbin
got her client acquitted of two of the four
counts. “It’s almost unheard of in a child
pornography case,” says criminal defense
lawyer Lisa A. Mathewson, who watched
Durbin make her closing statements. “It
was an excellent example of her not trying
to humanize the client; I think what she
does is recognize the humanity in the jury.”
Felicia Sarner, an assistant federal public
defender who’s been friends with Durbin
since 1983, agrees. “She’s raised it to an art
form,” Sarner says. “She really wants to get
into the jurors’ heads. Jurors just love her.
She wouldn’t be slicking them—she’s got
too honest a face.”
Durbin’s list of clients grew: the elderly
veteran’s widow accused of fraudulently
receiving benefits; the 20-something junkie
whose 32-year sentence Durbin shaved
down to 10; the troubled drug offender
who couldn’t avoid jail time, but who cried
as Durbin told the court his story.
“One of the things I’ve noticed about
Anna is, as she has gotten older, she’s
almost gotten younger in her passion,”
Collier says. “She hasn’t gotten harder.
She’s gotten even more enthusiastic
and energized, which really is unusual in
Durbin even gets involved in her clients’
lives. When one woman began talking
about committing suicide, Durbin drove to
her client’s house, where she noticed an
apartment filled with dog memorabilia.
The conversation turned to how the client
had raised dogs as a child and how she
missed those happier times.
“I just decided she needed a dog,”
Durbin says. “So I went over to the local
animal shelters and found this little dog
that just came in that day, paid the fee and
gave it to her. It was the best investment I
The best investment Kimberly Yates—the
prison-rape victim—ever made may have
been the money she spent on that phone
call to Durbin’s office.
As soon as Durbin accepted her