One day I was at intake court. I must’ve
had 20, 25 felons that I had to interview
quickly. You had to open 15 new felonies
every single month. The primary focus
at the initial appearance is bail—that’s
really the only issue. Is the person
indigent? If they’re indigent, the public
defender can represent; and then it’s a
question of what should the bond or bail
be. I found myself pressured to the point
where you’d quickly read the complaints,
and do a quick review with the client
and say, “Is this true or not?” So you’d
get an idea whether this was going to be
a difficult case to defend or a relatively
easy one where there was going to be
some sort of plea bargain.
One defendant, I read the complaint
to him and he denied it. He said, “That’s
absolutely not true.” The complaint
made it look like it was an open-and-shut case. It was a burglary, he was
caught red-handed, but the defendant
was maintaining his innocence. He gave
an explanation that sounded pretty
preposterous, and I just assumed this guy
was guilty. I went back to my office, and I
was talking to some of the other attorneys,
and I said, “This is kind of a ridiculous
defense.” One of the other attorneys said,
“Well, I’ll take that case.” And it turned out
that the guy was telling the absolute truth;
he was completely innocent.
So I realized: What good am I as
a defense attorney if I’m prejudging
whether somebody is guilty or innocent?
You can’t do that and be an effective
attorney. Sometimes the pressures
of your practice force people to make
shortcuts they wouldn’t otherwise
take; and it was at that point I realized
that I had to move on, that I couldn’t
practice at that volume level, and ever
since … The way I set up my practice, we
deliberately do not do a high-volume
practice. We take fewer, bigger cases.
I much prefer being able to dig into
the details and really look at a case
carefully—which I found out I wasn’t able
to do as a public defender.
Q: What drew you to the law in the first
A: I was always interested in court
dramas, growing up with Perry Mason
and Judd for the Defense. I’d always liked
mysteries as well. And the two kind of
went hand in hand.
Actually, when I started off in college,
I was an astronomy major. But within
the first month I realized it wasn’t the
kind of social atmosphere I wanted to
work in. A good hobby, but I had much
more interest in people than my fellow
astronomy students. Back then, if you
were an astronomer, it basically meant
you were sitting on a mountaintop all
night long, all alone, looking through
various telescopes. So I switched my
major over to forensic studies.
From that point on, I was always
interested in criminal defense. I did spend
one summer in a prosecutor’s office in
Washington, D.C. I worked for several
different prosecutors: researching memos,
suppression issues, Fourth Amendment,
searches or statements. Most of the
assignments I’d get, I’d come back with
memos saying, “This is an illegal search”
or “This is an improper statement.” And
they’d laugh. They could tell I was not cut
out to be a prosecutor.
Q: On the other hand, if you had become
a prosecutor, you might have saved the
state a lot of money: by not prosecuting
A: That’s true. Prosecutors can do justice
as well. You can do a lot of good. It’s
a funnel: You can try to separate the
innocent from the guilty early on. But I
just knew if I was working in a prosecutor’s
office, particularly starting off, you don’t
really have the flexibility to make those
judgments, because there’s office policies.
I just didn’t think I would be a good fit.
Q: Did you grow up in Indiana?
A: Indianapolis. My father was a chemist.
My mother and father met at Purdue—
they were both in organic chemistry. My
dad ended up getting a Ph.D. and my
mom a master’s. When they married, my
mother was a stay-home mom. We had
Q: What number child were you?
A: Three. In fact, after the fifth one, and
five kids in about seven, eight years, my
father realized he was going to have
a hard time supporting a family on a
chemist’s salary. So he went to law school,
at night, for five years, and became a
Q: Didn’t that affect your career choice?
Your father more than Perry Mason?
A: My father’s practice interested me
as well. At one point, I was interested
in patent law. But you really have to be
better in science than I am. You have to
have a degree in engineering or chemistry
or something like that to work in the