How Do You Defend Those People?

            How do you represent those people?

            The question is common enough for criminal defense lawyers. In the past few weeks, I’ve received variants of the question scores of times. You see, I represent Fotis Dulos, a man suspected in the disappearance of his estranged wife, and the mother of his five children, Jennifer Dulos.

            As if that weren’t bad enough, I also represent Alex Jones, the owner of Infowars, a man sued for denying, years ago, that that Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings took place.

            Why would I choose to represent such folks?

            The answer might surprise you: I’d rather represent the scorned than the popular. It’s how I am put together.

            It starts with a simple enough proposition. No one is the sum of their worst moments. Put another way, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

            That’s a Sunday school answer, however, and I am a haphazard Christian at best. Most Sundays find me in the office, and not in a pew.

            The real answer is entirely idiosyncratic.

            A decade or so ago a loved one fell ill. She was seriously ill. I was terrified. What would I do if I lost her? What would our children do? What would my clients do if I lost my way? What would employees do if I succumbed to grief?

            I went to see a psychiatrist. I needed a shoulder to lean on.

            When she recovered and the crisis passed, I signed on for psychoanalysis. For the past decade I’ve spent four mornings a week on the couch, free associating my way through endless hours trying to figure out why I do what I do.

            In terms of cases I take, here is the provisional answer.

            When I was eight, my father left home one morning. He never returned. I was an only child. We lived in Chicago at the time. My mother took his disappearance hard, very hard. I was sent to live with relatives in Detroit while she regrouped. Months later, when I saw her, I realized I had lost her, too.

            In some fundamental sense, I was alone, suddenly, a weeper of solitary tears.

            We lived for several years like vagabonds. All of our belongings were lost to the storage company that held them, then seized them, when my mother was forced to declare bankruptcy. One year we lived in a spare bedroom in an aunt’s home. Then we lived in an unfinished attic – it was freezing in the winter, and sweltering in the summer. We rented rooms in a rooming house – I had my own, and it was heaven. Then we started to rent furnished apartments. I had my own room; my mother took the living room.

            We moved each school year, my mother always seeking a better school district.

            (I saw my father once again, 40 years later, thanks to a random appearance on Good Morning America. It was a difficult reunion, so difficult, in fact, that when he died, I was not told about his death. I learned of it just in time to crash his funeral, much to the surprise of his new wife's family who, apparently, did not know that I existed. Walking into a courtroom, even a hostile courtroom, by contrast, is easy.)

            As I was about to enter high school, my mother found a new man, a violent drunk who despised me. His names for me made his contempt for me clear. I was suddenly a stranger in my own home, a feeling I wish on no one. I’d walk the streets to avoid coming home before they were asleep so as to avoid a confrontation. These days, email attackers who berate me stand a distant second to this man: do you think I'll be discomfited by electronic scorn when I've smelled drunken rage at close quarters?

            One night, a call came in. Her beaux had beaten a neighborhood drug dealer senseless with a baseball bat. The dealer’s friends vowed vengeance. My mother wanted to call the police. But that wasn’t how business got settled in Detroit.

            I was given a rifle to guard the back of the duplex within which we lived. “Shoot anyone who comes here,” I was told. My mother’s lover was out front with a revolver – she stayed in the house and wept with fear.

            I prayed that night that the men would come to the front of the house and kill this man who made my life so difficult. It didn’t happened. I was fourteen, or thereabouts, and I would have killed that night. I am a criminal, I suppose.

            What saved me was the Big Brother’s program. My big brother had a son my age, and a couple of times a month I was taken away for the weekend. We ate meals seated at a table in a kitchen; I was welcome at that table. We went to baseball games. We watched sports on television. I’d wait on the street for him to come. He always arrived when he said he would.

            He was a solid anchor in a sea of anger, frustration and fear.

            I lost track of my big brother in my mid-teens, when I’d had enough of being hated in my own home and I left Detroit, graduating early from high school and never really returning home. Such success as I’ve enjoyed as a lawyer surprises no one more than it does me.

            My big brother died not long ago. I was beginning trial in a case in which my client was accused of throwing his seven-month baby to his death off a bridge. I asked the judge for permission to attend the funeral. Permission granted.

            All at once, things seemed suddenly more clear.

            I am the man who once rescued the little boy. I’ve become my big brother. The folks I stand beside are me. In some bizarre twist of fate, I repeat the abandonment cycle, this time being the rescuer I never had. I can work out the rage, fear and sorrow over abandonment in standing between an accused and his accusers: It’s true, I take pride in knowing that the state must get through me to get at my client.

            I know, I know: the analogy is not perfect, and is, perhaps, too convenient. Yes, I get money to do my job; and notoriety of a sort suits me. I am vain, a man of unclean lips. But I know there is truth in this explanation.

            The world hates Fotis Dulos just now. I was hated once, too. A drunken bully would berate me as I stood my ground, trying to bait me into a fight. I’d stand silent, keeping my cool, plotting vengeance. I thought of killing him, but decided leaving was better. My mother had made her choices; I had choices of my own to make, and a life ahead of me.

            So I live that life. I defend hated and scorned people, and, candidly, there is nowhere I’d rather be than by their side. Why? I’m guessing it had something to do with silent tears I wept with no one to hear them. My clients will not be alone. They need the defense a little boy never got.

            If I am wrong to give that defense, I nonetheless do not apologize. I don’t even ask for understanding. Here I stand; I can do no other. All you are entitled to is an honest answer to the questions folks ask over and over again: Why?

Comments: (36)

  • Why you do it
    Norm, this is truly inspirational - your life could have taken so many different paths and I applaud you for overcoming so many obstacles. And your story also sheds light on why you defend those who truly need it, even if it appears they don’t deserve it. Well done my friend.
    Posted on June 28, 2019 at 6:28 pm by Anne
  • I’d want you in my corner!
    Your story tears at my heart but it made you the man and the well respected attorney that you are today! Prior to reading this I came to your defense on a Ct. Dulos site...I wrote, “If the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure many would want to be represented by him! He always has a method to his madness. He doesn't allow turmoil and negativity to trump due process!” I’m so proud of the person you’ve become through all of your wasn’t easy but it was all worth it! Thank you for believing in the underdog! Please take care of yourself and take some time for you!
    With Respect,
    Posted on June 28, 2019 at 8:06 pm by Deb Sciarra Pellegrino
  • I CARE
    I admire Norm Pattis and have nothing negative to say about him. He does his job meticulouslywell and if I ever needed his services I would definitely contact him even though I could never afford him. He is superb. elizabeth
    Posted on June 29, 2019 at 10:17 am by Elizabeth
  • You
    I feel so sorry for your childhood and your loved ones health scare. He must be a incredibly smart man. I do respect you but why can’t you help the good people in this for children.
    Posted on June 29, 2019 at 3:52 pm by Nancy Warfield
  • Thanks
    Mr. Pattis, thank you for this deeply personal piece on your reasons for finding criminal defense so natural to you.
    I do wish you'd taken a few more lines to explain to this incredibly addled and ignorant readership why criminal defense is so important to a free people; why it was written into our Constitution, and why the Founders did so. Perhaps then the media's infotainment silliness when reporting on the Jones and Dulos cases (and so many others) would be exposed for the corrosive tripe that it is.
    Posted on June 29, 2019 at 7:07 pm by Anton
  • Great column
    Thanks for being so open. You're a terrific writer too!
    Posted on June 29, 2019 at 9:51 pm by Paul Bass
  • Lumsden
    Norm, this is beautiful, brilliant. It made me well up. This is a book. Please write it.
    Posted on June 30, 2019 at 10:43 am by Carolyn
  • Defending the Scorned
    Very eloquently written. But that philosophy would be out to the test if the dead person were your loved one.
    Posted on June 30, 2019 at 1:32 pm by Janet
  • circle of life...
    Beautiful post Norm. You're right...your beginnings made you stronger and a better glad you survived.
    Posted on June 30, 2019 at 1:42 pm by Portia
  • Write The Book
    You big jerk! You made me cry. Hope all is going smoothly for you lately.
    Posted on July 2, 2019 at 11:41 am by Nella
  • Respect
    Whether I agree with the people you represent or not, that’s irrelevant. It takes a lot for someone to come to the forefront with the “why”, as to why they do what they do, but yours is remarkable. I respect and admire you for what you have gone through and for creating a different life for yourself and your family. Based on the passion you show, it was clear you have been through struggles, and thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story.
    Posted on July 3, 2019 at 4:06 pm by Maura
  • Why you do it
    Thank you for sharing . I have been trying to rationalize "why" ever since I learned about this case. I now understand completely. This answer was beautiful, heart wrenching, and honest. It took courage to reveal your past. I applaud you for doing so, because I believe it can help others. You are a special man. Keep up the good work, but "take time to smell the roses:. Take care my friend.
    Posted on July 4, 2019 at 9:05 pm by Dawn Kelly
  • Why we do it
    the Constitution gives everyone the right to representation. The motivation behind choosing to defend the worst of the worst, of course, is just as important.
    It isn't the same, I know, but a few years ago, I was on the Dr Drew show "defending" the release of a guy the media calls the "pillowcase rapist." As an advocate for abolishment of the sex offender registry, I was dragged onto the show to give an opinion. I was amazed that the most vocal critics of my choice to go on the show and defend this man's constitutional rights were fellow activists for sex offense registry reform. Why would I not if that is my job to defend those who completed their prison sentences?
    Posted on July 6, 2019 at 1:52 pm by Derek Logue of
  • Or . . .
    . . . you're reenacting the trauma of guarding that door with your abuser. Wouldn't be the first time a traumatized person tried to control the situation by identifying with the perpetrator.
    Posted on July 8, 2019 at 10:13 am by JenG
  • article
    Thank you for sharing Norm, I had no idea. Its a compelling story, more respect to you for who you are, what you do, and your very significant accomplishments! They say adversity builds character - well I think you've got enough,,,,
    Posted on July 15, 2019 at 10:22 pm by Jim
  • Blog
    New follower...that sounds odd...precise concise and no swears... excellent
    Posted on July 18, 2019 at 10:59 am by Dave
  • How Do You Defend Those People
    you're "no holds bar" revelations about your childhood is inspirational and a classic example of how one can rise to the top no matter how difficult a childhood. Thank you for your candor
    Posted on July 22, 2019 at 8:37 am by Raymond Sitar
  • Turn and Repent
    The devil is a liar. He does not lie outright, for it would be far too simple to anyone with discernment to recognize, but instead he strategizes by mixing the truth with lies. His methods are confusion, manipulation, and deceit. This blog post only contains one sliver of truth and light - all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The rest is demonic deceit. Norm, I plead for your soul and pray that you turn and repent from defending the guilty. Let God deal with them, as He will with you, too. On your judgment day, you will not be able to tell the Lord, “it was just business.” There will be no excuses. Anyone truly saved works to expose evil and the unfruitful works of darkness. Norm, you will be in hell tormented for all eternity if you do not turn and repent. As long as you are alive, it is not too late. I plead with you to turn to the Lord today, and plead the cases of the innocent. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
    Posted on August 11, 2019 at 9:16 am by Alicia
  • why?
    i am like you. an only child,...abandoned by my father with the task of raising me left to my mother.
    i sought his return in my dreams,
    i heard about his womanizing, and saw my mother’s anguish for his defying court-ordered support ipsy day fd. i longed for him and waited for him all my life.
    i, too, crashed a funeral...his mother’s...where his 5th wife stormed out when she realized my existence.
    he lived a very long life. he kept its sweetness for himself. my mother suffered...unlike yours, she was my advocate and protector, even if she didn’t like seeing his image in my face.
    i was him...even if i was hers. neither parent, therefore, could wholly love me.
    and so, Norm...i come down on the side of “doing the right thing”. you could have been the murderer, but you weren’t. you weren’t evil. you weren’t satan.
    no. i still can’t understand “why” when you could so vigorously and successfully defend the true victims.
    still, i admire your brilliance, eloquent articulation, and confidence in delivery. Dulos is very fortunate to have you walk by his side. i’m sure i despise him...but prove me wrong.
    as someone said, it might be different if it is your loved one who has been violated...killed.
    i am also a bereaved mother, having lost my young adult son to a ski accident. grief is forever. i’d tell Alex. Jones how he tortures the parents of victims in their most vulnerable and exquisitely painful losses. i hate him, too.
    you are a very good guy...but it’s twisted.
    i don’t hate you. i am fascinated to follow these cases.
    Posted on August 19, 2019 at 7:41 am by lynda
  • How do you defend those people ?
    Are you sure that you are such a haphazard Christian ? There seems to be a strong undercurrent of an Orthodox Christian way of thinking here. You have clearly read some Dostoevsky... perhaps Brothers Karamazov ? However you define it, you are clearly motivated by compassion and a deep sense of respect for people, however much this may disturb common notions of justice.
    You are utterly human -- what an admirable trait for a lawyer.
    Posted on September 12, 2019 at 8:47 pm by DK
  • Seeking Understanding and Truth
    Although your story is a sad and unfortunate one (to be clear many including myself have horror stories for our childhood), but respectfully I do not see you as the Big Brother defending the weak. As a child you were the victim of an abuser, and your overwhelming feeling of loss and abandonment no doubt compels you to help the weak and less fortunate. However, it appears you have BECOME your abuser and NOT your Big Brother.. you are not protecting those you have been victimized such as yourself... you are picking up the gun and standing beside your abuser committed to shoot down anyone who tries to shoot him. I would say you overwhelming need to prove yourself and desire for approval of those who abuse/stand against you... only proves how very insecure you feel. If your true motive was to make YOUR abuser to receive justice for his discretionary behavior... you would be fighting to protect these victims and not aiding these abusers by putting a gun in their hands. I think you truly need to reevaluate your true motives and needs. I believe your intend is primarily driven by wanting to "do good", I believe you are misguided in your approach. (In your answer/scenario... Fotis Dulos is your mother's chosen companion...chosen OVER her own child... are you sure that you are not TRYING to become the man your mother chose/the abuser in order to gain your mother's acceptance?!?!). Freud would have a field day with your motive... my guess is you are wanting your mom's love and approval in your actions to defend these deplorable abusers. Think about it.
    Posted on September 14, 2019 at 11:41 am by Tanya
  • Abandonment
    What I don't understand is that what seemed to start your pain was when your father walked out on you and as a result you basically lost both parents. In this case the defendant is accused of taking away the mother of his children. thus abandoning them in a sense from the one who loved and nurtured them. As a result. they have pretty much lost their father also. Although the circumstances are different, the end result is similar to what started all of your pain and the spiral down of your childhood. I would ask the question then "would you defend your scumbag father?" because what Fotis is being accused of is what is starting his children's lives to spin out of control and they cannot change the fact that they have lost their mother and their father. I see it as you defending your own father who was the one who caused you so much pain and cause the destruction of your childhood. I genuinely pray for God's "will" to be done in your life. God Bless You Mr. Pattis
    Posted on September 21, 2019 at 10:47 am by Gaylene
  • The best lawyer
    Wow!!!! I’ve been in and out of trouble my whole life but the the last few years my life has changed. More less to say I made big mistakes in my past But have changed since. Mr.pattis is a amazing person and lawyer. I respect him for what he does as a lawyer.keep it up norm
    Posted on January 8, 2020 at 10:13 pm by Brian curylo
  • Elucidate
    I now understand why you do what you do. Until I read your blog,you were a member of the “dregs of society club”,however I’m sorry say you have been removed from that,exclusively. Godspeed.
    Posted on January 9, 2020 at 1:45 pm by Joey F.
  • Just like Medusa
    I'm sorry. This "heart to heart" article you wrote, seems like it's to save face. You yourself said you have a lot of friends who stopped even acknowledging you and wouldnt even say hi in public to you because of your CHOICE to represent Fotis Dulos. That is because people see through you for what you really are. You represent fotis because of the notoriety that comes with representing a true monster. Also, you represent Alex Jones and those well known celebrities for the money $$$. Its all you care about is fame and fortune. Dollar signs and Headlines is what you are all about. It's rather sad because you share this heart to heart thinking people will feel sorry and proud of you, that you came from a broken home and made something out of life. You could have become a big brother. Still can. You could help VICTIMS. Instead you represent violent murderers, rapists, and just straight up garbage human beings like the boy who threw his 7 month old child off a 70 foot bridge to his death, Fotis Dulos, and Alex Jones. You have a CHOICE. You could have really become someone who people respected and appreciated but instead you chose to, as you put it, be the guy who stands in FRONT of the killer that the State has to go through to get to them. Anyone who has the slightest bit of pea brain can read their arrest warrants and KNOW if their guilty of murder or not. You are the guy who chooses to see the evidence and see the guilt, and try and get the killer off those murder charges on a "technicality". It is quite sickening to be honest. Usually we are and become what we see and grew up in. You Norm, have become the violent, hostile, angry drunk your step daddy was, the runaway dad that wanted nothing to do with anything good, the evil. You have become him. I honestly dont know how your wife can sleep next to you at night knowing the garbage you represent and try and get off. Repulsive doesn't even begin to explain it, but birds of a feather flock together. ✌ #justiceforjennifer #fotisKILLEDsweetjennifer #capitalmurder #hesamonster #justlikeyou #takeoffthemask
    Posted on January 10, 2020 at 4:56 pm by Haley Johnson
  • I get it but do better
    You could do better. No doubt you've had a bad childhood, as have many, but identifying with these monsters and then saving them doesn't make you a saint. What about JENNIFER? How do you sleep?
    Posted on January 17, 2020 at 9:11 am by KC
  • Ok but...
    Ok, I get it. It could have been you making that choice that night night in Chicago but something kept you from being a murderer. What I dont get is that in your defense of these clients, you choose to use outrageous tactics that are very hurtful to the families of these victims. There must be another way you can chose to give them your best defense without it being at the expense of others. Why would you would to inflict the same pain you once endured. Is that a passive aggressive anger deep with in that is a release of inner turmoil? I too grew within a horrible situation and I too always find myself helping the ones in need, less fortunate, products of an environment but I do not and would not do any help at the expense of another. To me only a person who is incompatible of a healthy release of built up emotions would use passive aggressive techniques to hurt others. Just my thoughts.
    Posted on January 19, 2020 at 5:43 pm by Cathy
  • The good and the bad
    Norman the cycle of abandonment makes sense. You are reprotecting yourself
    As a child from abandonment you are curing your empty and abandoned self. Thank you for sharing such personal information with us it is really touching and deep. However the difference between your past and your present is the fact that you are “good” or I suppose you were a good child, a victim of other people’s decisions and disfunctional personalities. You didn’t choose
    To be mistreated or abandoned. You had to endure it as you had no choice as
    A child. However the perpetrators you are defending and that you are trying to protect have a willpower have a conscience and have made decisions to harm others and protect their narcissistic selves. Whereas you were a vulnerable and hurt child ! So how can the “good” identify with the “bad” and try to
    Empathize with it ??another psychoanalytic explanation would be that the perpetrators are your abandoning parents and you are trying to approach and protect them in order to be loved as you fear you were never ? And they have to pay you as a payback for their sins ?
    Posted on January 24, 2020 at 3:05 pm by Vas
  • Inspiration
    Your story is truly inspiring. You should be proud of yourself for how far you have come. I support you indefinitely as you are doing your job; no matter who you represent.
    Posted on January 26, 2020 at 10:37 am by Amy
  • Fotis removing the memorial for Jennifer
    If Fotis did not murder Jennifer, he would not feel compelled to take down the memorial, but would have said how kind of all these people to keep Jen in their hearts and Prayers. Because he IS guilty with blood on his hands and shoes he is defiantly claiming all those people were instead “taunting” him. He is the one who has created the atmosphere of disgust and fear because he lives a life of I am better than those of us and I am entitled to do what ever I want to do. That does not endear him to all of us who morn for Jen, Gloria and most of all the five children whose lives are most injured. Sincerely, Susan Heller
    Posted on January 26, 2020 at 1:09 pm by Susan Heller
  • Proper defense
    Hi Norm. You're just one of a kind, aren't ya. And so handsome, too.
    You and your two sidekicks look like a human manifestation of Harry Potter. Then there are the two demons who flank Fotis (did you notice that Kent wears a demonic crown across his forehead? Michelle is so purely demonic I can't believe I haven't read headlines about it).
    So you grew up under the wings of darkness. Life's a tragedy. But I don't buy your explanation of psychological framework for why you defend evil. You failed to mention why you'd defend the guy who was porking your mother while making you feel like something YOU aren't (a criminal).
    Wait, you THINK you're a criminal? Or you only FEEL that way?
    Listen, there is only ONE defense when someone is wholly guilty of an evil deed. Wanna know what it is?
    Your evil client is an abhorrent coward flanked by demons who should confess (they all should) but most likely never will.
    You should never construct a defense of willful lies. What a sick game, no wonder demons walk this world.
    Get him to confess. Get him to open up and divulge like you did.
    I don't hate you Norm but you incensed me several times. I don't want you being all screwed up in your thoughts and feelings over this case. Fotis is evil and guilty and you're legit crazy to say you're proud to defend him. Knock it off. You aren't him. He's not a poor little boy.
    You wanna be on the same page with Fotis? Make him be like you. You be his big brother and show him the worth in opening up, sharing, and being honest and truthful.
    Confession is his only possible defense.
    Posted on January 26, 2020 at 7:12 pm by God
  • Jen G, nailed it
    Very concisely, Jen G, above, in a nutshell, psychoanalized why you, Norm, do what you do. You're subconsciously protecting and defending the idea of the man you hated.
    Your work in therapy isn't done. You will feel whole if you flip the narrative and vehemently defend the victims and innocent. You'll feel peace. Reward. Joy. Please don't let your talent be wasted on an improper and morally bankrupt cause.
    Posted on January 30, 2020 at 12:36 am by Teej
  • Talent
    Fotis seemed like scum from the start. Worse than you and Kevin.. I saw Kev shedding those tears while you declared his death at 5:32 PM. Norman, the bookworm you are I thought you would respect your client more and read up on psychology? Why didn't you nurture him as a son (mentor) take him in more for a pep talk. I believe that would've prevented the outcome. Therefore, we would've heard what happened on Albany Ave. Also, he is the monkey man.. he was not GQ model he makes my stomach turn. I would like to hear the explanation WHAT WAS HE DOING ON ALBANY AVE? Will you write a book? Will Kev & Chris write a sequel? - TRUMP 2020
    Posted on February 9, 2020 at 3:28 am by Peter
  • I have a lot of respect for you Norm
    Norm Pattis, I respect you even more now after reading this article. I applaud you for overcoming all the hardships and for believing in the underdog. I wonder where justice is?? Why can't we not hear all the evidence??? I don't think Fotis would of ever had a fair trial, he was already charged in most people's minds.
    Take care of yourself Norm!!
    Posted on March 3, 2020 at 2:06 pm by Eleni Stefanopoulos
  • but....
    I don't understand why you associate your clients with you instead of the perpetrator of violence, namely your mom's bf. I get it, you were hated, they're hated but isn't why they are hated the more important commonality? You hated that guy in the same way people hate your clients, because of the abuse. So what you're really doing is defending people the are more like whats-his-face.
    Posted on January 17, 2021 at 12:13 am by Patrick
  • You
    You are still a scumbag just like the ones you defend. Occam’s razor. The simplest solution is usually the correct one. Criminal defense attorneys are scumbags. You won’t approve this comment because it’s the truth
    Posted on April 25, 2021 at 4:12 am by Jade

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