Attorneys bring justice to lowly as Bible says
Final Allouez Forum speaker cites four lawyers as examples of grace in action
By Tony Staley
DE PERE - Attorneys and the law can - and have - made positive contributions to society, bringing justice to the lowly, as the Bible proclaims, a Milwaukee attorney told the final Allouez Forum of 1999-2000.
L. William Staudenmaier cited four examples of 20th century attorneys who found grace in the law in his talk at St. Norbert College.
- John Doar, a Wisconsin attorney, whom Pres. Eisenhower asked in 1960 to go from his practice in New Richmond to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Dept. Doar continued in that position under Pres. Kennedy and concentrated on efforts to increase voting rights for blacks.
It was a time when white Southern judges routinely threw out civil rights cases, which the FBI was not even enthused about investigating, Staudenmaier said.
But Doar persevered, securing court orders barring the Ku Klux Klan from assembling to block voting rights efforts by blacks and seeing to it that James Meredith could attend Ole Miss.
Following the murder of three black civil rights workers in the Freedom Summer of 1964, Doar led a two-year federal investigation that resulted in the indictment of 17 whites. Though Doar did not consider himself a prosecutor, he convinced an all-white jury that seven of the 17 men were guilty - the first time in Mississippi that whites were found guilty of white on black crime, Staudenmaier said.
Doar's life showed that the law should be blind to race or nationality, just as Jesus was willing to defy conventions and speak to a Samaritan woman, Staudenmaier said.
- Clarence Darrow, who argued in 1929 in the Leopold and Loeb murder case that capital punishment was unjust. There was no question of their guilt for the planned murder of a 14-year-old boy. While the judge cited the youth of the two teenage defendants - rather than the reasons Darrow gave in arguing his case - he was still successful, Staudenmaier said.
And today, more than 70 years later, more people have come to believe that the death penalty should be abolished, he said.
- E. Michael McCann, Milwaukee County district attorney, whose "work is a testament to God's grace lived," Staudenmaier said. In 32 years as district attorney, McCann has seen to it that his staff mirrors the diverse demographics of the county he serves, Staudenmaier said.
His was the first U.S. county to start a witness and victim assistance office because his ethics told him it was right. McCann meets with the family of anyone killed by police officers, talks about what happens and tells them their legal rights. He also sees to it that "when wrongdoers are caught, they are the wrongdoers," Staudenmaier said.
And, in 1995, he successfully prosecuted Chem-Bio Corp. for misdiagnosing pap smears, marking the first time in the country that a corporation was found guilty of homicide, Staudenmaier said.
- Abe Fortas, whose arguments on the need for the courts to appoint attorneys for indigent clients if they are to receive a fair trial, resulted in the overturning of an earlier Supreme Court ruling.
Fortas argued on behalf of Clarence Giddeon, an indigent white man who had been found guilty of breaking into a pool hall and stealing a bottle of wine and some coins after the court refused his request to provide him with a defense attorney.
Fortas, Staudenmaier said, sought to "reform criminal law for the good of society, not because he had any illusions about criminals."
An ideal model for attorneys, Staudenmaier said, is Atticus Finch, the fictional small southern town white lawyer in Harper Lee's 1961 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Finch, he said, stood up for what was right, even though it made him unpopular, when he defended a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
"Blessed are we," Staudenmaier said, "when we try to seek justice. The Kingdom of Heaven will be ours."
What: Claude Allouez Forum, sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and the St. Norbert College Theological Institute; it is open to the public.
When: 7:15 a.m. one Friday a month, September through May.
Where: Bemis International Center, St. Norbert College.
Theme: Glancing Ahead: Glimmers of Hope.
- Sept. 8 - Abp. Rembert Weakland, OSB, Milwaukee.
- Oct. 20 - Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA, a scripture theologian.
- Nov. 17 - Sharon Schmeling, Madison, public policy analyst.
- Dec. 15 - Fr. Dave Pleier, pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.
- Jan. 12 - David and Monie Brunner, farmers.
- Feb. 9 - Bert Liebmann, Green Bay attorney.
- March 9 - Sr. Mary Jo Kirt, director of Mt. Tabor Youth Center, Menasha.
- April 6 - Artley Skenandore, Oneida Nation spiritual leader.
- May 11 - John Bergstrom, Fox Valley businessman.
Cost: $8, includes breakfast.
Reservations: (920)437-7531, ext. 8173.