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 (18)
Posted on August 11, 2019 at 2:16 pm by Alicia
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 July 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm by Raymond Sitar
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 18, 2019 at 3:59 pm by Dave
New follower...that sounds odd...precise concise and no swears... excellent

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 3:22 am by Jim
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 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm by JenG
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 6, 2019 at 6:52 pm by Derek Logue of
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 5, 2019 at 2:05 am by Dawn Kelly
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 3, 2019 at 9:06 pm by Maura
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 2, 2019 at 4:41 pm by Nella
Write The Book
You big jerk! You made me cry. Hope all is going smoothly for you lately.

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 6:42 pm by Portia
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 6:32 pm by Janet
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 3:43 pm by Carolyn
Norm, this is beautiful, brilliant. It made me well up. This is a book. Please write it.

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 2:51 am by Paul Bass
Great column
Thanks for being so open. You're a terrific writer too!

Posted on June 30, 2019 at 12:07 am by Anton
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 8:52 pm by Nancy Warfield
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 3:17 pm by Elizabeth
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 1:06 am by Deb Sciarra Pellegrino
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 11:28 pm by Anne
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.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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