challenging laws that did not recognize rape
of women as a form of torture. So you had
female membership, particularly women
from El Salvador and African and Central
American countries seeking political refuge
and statuses of political refugee because
they had been raped. To qualify for political
asylum, you had to have been tortured.
Q: And rape hadn’t been recognized as
A: It was an interesting analysis, because
men who were hooded were qualified, but
women who were raped didn’t qualify. It was
rather arbitrary. Rape was being framed …
as a private act of sexual assault, as opposed
to a public act of political oppression.
Ultimately, the work we did had an effect.
Those laws were changed and it was
recognized as a form of torture. I don’t think
it happened when I was there.
Q: That sort of work is similar to what you
do now, advocating on behalf of somebody
who doesn’t have much power. What first
got you interested in this sort of practice?
A: Just like everyone else—everyone who
grew up watching To Kill a Mockingbird.
Q: You would be surprised how often we
hear that. Or maybe you wouldn’t.
A: No, I’m not surprised, because it was
so common. But I do remember watching
Scout watch Atticus through that closing,
and I do remember thinking, “Wow, what a
meaningful life.” Harper Lee, who wrote To
Kill a Mockingbird, unable to be an attorney
herself, instead created this beautiful piece
of art that inspired generations of people to
Q: What did you learn while you were
working in Alaska?
A: I worked for the public defender’s [office].
Alaska has one of the most dynamic
Supreme Courts and bars in the country
because so many wonderful attorneys from
the East Coast go to practice in Alaska
because Alaska doesn’t have its own law
school. Just brilliant people. All kinds of
wonderful trial lawyers.
But mostly [I went there] because I had
Q: Great perk.
worked in fishing up there in the summers
when I was at the University of Oregon and
I always wanted to see the Northern Lights
and go to Denali National Park. So this job
opened up where I could be in Fairbanks
and Anchorage and then I would get to
travel all around Alaska, which I found very
exciting at the time.
A: It was amazing. You show up to work in
like muck boots and say, “My [colleague]
can’t appear because he’s stuck in an
Q: Was there anything unique about the
types of cases you would handle there?
A: In Alaska, you work on cases where people
had traveled from all over the United States
and kind of hit the end of the road. You
would see people isolated. They would come
to Alaska for the great Alaskan adventure
and then try to homestead on some remote
part of the frontier and then it would get
18 degrees below zero and they would be
isolated and go crazy.
You have a lot of winter madness in
Alaska. It was like seasonal affective
disorder on crack. So you did a lot of work
representing people who were mentally ill
or temporarily mentally ill because of the
harsh, harsh conditions.
We got the Northern Exposure experience
because you would be driving from, say,
Palmer, Alaska, into Anchorage, and there
would be a moose that would run along my
Toyota truck, and I would be like, ‘I’ve got to
outrun this moose or the moose is going to
run in front of me and I’m going to die.’ You
just had this feeling in Alaska of not being
on the top of the food chain, and realizing
that humans don’t know that, and then they
come to Alaska and find it out.
The case that I’ll never forget [involved]
a 14-year-old boy who took a rifle and from
over a hundred yards away shot his father
in the temple. The people of the village
raised a defense fund for the boy because
they knew the boy couldn’t survive another
winter with his father. This boy would wait
in the truck with his little brother while
his father got drunk, and the boys would
almost freeze to death.
Everyone in the community knew this
Q: What do you know now about your
dad was bad news and that he was violent
and a terrible father, so they raised a
defense fund for this little boy who was, I
think, adjudicated as a child and was the
first time I saw a “battered child defense.”
But I was so moved at how the community
came to advocate on behalf of this boy.
That was one of my first cases as a
public defender. That case had a huge
impact on me as an attorney because it
was an example of a community rallying
around what was just and doing the right
thing for this boy.
job that you wish you knew when you
A: I wish I hadn’t been so naive. I think that
I grew up in a privileged, sheltered way
and that I didn’t realize how much people
lie. And I think I’m a better attorney now
because I am less naive.
Q: When you say “people,” do you mean
opposing counsel or your clients?
A: Everybody. Everyone. At first I was
surprised that police officers lie as much as
they do. Then I was surprised that opposing
counsel lie. And because I grew up so
sheltered I just couldn’t imagine someone
walking into an attorney’s office and lying
for whatever reason, or lying by omission.
It’s such a commitment to represent a
person. When I was a younger attorney,
I didn’t understand how important it
was to be selective and to choose one
saddle because you only have 24 hours
in a day. When I was a public defender, I
represented everyone that I was assigned
to represent. You cannot run a civil rights
firm the way a public defender [office]
is run. You have to be very selective and
choose your battles.
This interview has been condensed.