Thank You, Shon Hopwood

Practice law long enough and a certain weariness sets in. It’s more than a function of aging, although that is certainly a factor. But it’s also the accumulated wear and tear of too close an acquaintance with sorrow, anger, fear – the raw emotions spawned by the needs that drive clients to your office. Law offices are not happy places.

So when renewal comes, when grace abounds, you give such thanks as you can. Today I write to thank Shon Hopwood. His memoir, Law Man, is the perfect love story for lawyers wondering whether the race is still worth running.

Hopwood teaches law at Georgetown University Law Center. But that’s hardly remarkable. Law professors abound.

What is remarkable is the path Hopwood took.

As a young man, he stumbled through some college and a brief stint in the Navy, aimlessly, perhaps drunkenly, wandering into a brief career as a bank robber in the Midwest. Five heists into his career, he was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a decade behind bars in federal prison.

Nothing in his childhood seems to explain the turn toward criminality: He comes from an intact family, there is no history of criminal conduct among those closest to him, his parents appear to have been loving, he was not poor, and, he is white. But off he went to serve in the belly in the beast.

He writes convincingly and familiarly about what it took to survive. In the bleak moral landscape of a prison, respect was all men had left – you had to be prepared to fight savagely to maintain it. Yet the relationships men formed behind bars were informed by a wary sort of sidelong love.

While in prison, Hopwood discovered the law, first through a chance assignment to the law library as prison employment. Then by learning to do legal research the old-fashioned way, with books, paper and legal pad. While a prisoner, he drafted two successful petitions for certioiari to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of fellow prisoners, and, apparently, scores of other briefs for fellow inmates that were filed, and were often successful, in various federal courts throughout the country.

He became a lawyer the old-fashioned way, by listening to people in need, hitting the books, spotting issues, drafting, and then redrafting, briefs. All this while behind bars. All this before he ever set foot in a law school. His memoir shows him falling in love with the law.

It also shows him falling in love with a girl from his hometown, a girl he always thought beyond his reach, a runner, sleekly gliding down the country roads he aimlessly drove. She’d wave and smile as he drove by. He thought of her often, and always as a prize he could never win.

Years into his sentence she wrote to him. They fell in love. Upon his release, they unite, marry, and begin a family. He finds a job, improbably enough, at one of the nation’s specialty printers, Cockle Printers, a firm devoted to preparing Supreme Court briefs. (Cockle is a meticulous editor of briefs, which makes the various editing errors in Law Man a little hard to take.)  All this while he attends law school at the University of Washington, where he is given a public service fellowship. He then clerks for a federal appellate court judge.

He writes about all this like a man awaking from a surgery he was sure he would not survive. “Grace happens,” he writes.

I needed to read those words, and I needed to see the transforming power of love at work in the life of a colleague and peer, another law man walking the walk amid the dreadful shadows inhabiting the courts. Hopwood is a man redeemed. He knows how rare such redemption is. He and his wife have devoted themselves to service and to love.

It took myriad acts of grace to draw Hopwood back into society. Small gifts, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness, paved his way. He writes movingly to thank those who helped him.

Hopwood isn’t naïve. There’s no easy sentimentality evident in his book. And while the writing rarely soars, it is always honest. Hopwood is a live man walking. He was rescued by love.

Thank you, Shon Hopwood, for this tale of amazing grace. Somehow, it’s just the thing I needed to read just now, when the weight of so many people’s woes oppress, and I sometimes wonder whether the law’s road is more difficult a walk than I have the endurance to follow.

Hopwood and another former inmate, Michael Santos, have formed an entity called Prison Professors LLC. They want to help ease the burden of current and former inmates. They want to share the grace and return the love they have been given. Hopwood sets an example for this weary traveler.

Again, I say thank you, Shon Hopwood, for this tale of amazing grace.


Dowd Is Out; More Pointless "Donald Drama"

            The resignation of Donald Trump’s chief personal lawyer, John Dowd, brings to mind an aphorism often discussed, but rarely publicly acknowledged, among lawyers: “You can lead a client to the courthouse, but you can’t make him think.”

            Dowd, it appears, grew weary of preaching prudence to a man who views impudence as among the cardinal virtues.

            Trump is at the center of more than the usual firestorm of controversy. As president, he has legal counsel intended to protect the interests of the presidency as an institution. He also has personal counsel, lawyers focused on protecting his individual interests. What’s lacking in his legal team is any sense of coherence. That is no doubt a function of the fact that Trump brings the ethos of an entertainer to the task of governing. 

            The president needs to be careful.  Few really care about what a television celebrity does. But a president is supposed to be more than a celebrity. A president is supposed to lead his party, and the nation. Everything a president does has political, and legal significance. Rather than looking for a lawyer to serve as his cheerleader, Trump needs to learn to listen to counsel with the courage to tell him “no.”

            But the Donald doesn’t listen. He seems incapable of doing so.

            A lawyer’s job is to provide advice and counsel to a president. A good lawyer works with a client to identify the client’s interests, and then helps devise a strategy to best accomplish satisfy those interests within the confines of the law. A great lawyer understands the law’s rhythm and can be the difference between success and failure.

            But clients set the tone for the attorney-client relationship. A lawyer advises, the client decides. You can’t make a client listen. A man bent of self-destruction can always find the means to succeed.

            John Dowd has apparently had enough of the Donald. When the president last week hired another lawyer, Joseph DiGenova, a brash loudmouth who brays on Fox News about the Justice Department’s and FBI’s “manufacturing” of evidence against the president regarding Russian influence over the 2016 presidential election, one suspects Dowd had his fill. Yes, Dowd called last weekend for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to end the Russian investigation; but it seemed that Dowd was mouthing lines he’d been told to mutter.

            So Dowd is out.

            Who’s next?

            It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ty Cobb be the next lawyer to decide enough is enough. Cobb has advised that Trump cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. That won’t satisfy DiGenova, who prefers conspiracy theory and “deep state” drama.

            As another tumultuous week ends in the Trump’s latest reality show, the president is surrounded by growing, and increasingly complex, legal problems: Mueller wants to chat – the president and his advisers need to take a position of the scope of executive privilege, and to develop a coherent litigation strategy. The president’s incessant Twittering suggests he is incapable of doing so.

            Claims of sexual misconduct haunt the man who boasted, and then denied boasting about, his celebrity status and grabbing women by the, well, you know. Claims against him for defamation over his calling accusers liars will advance to discovery and further litigation. His business affairs in Russia are under scrutiny. The extent to which he has, or has not, obstructed justice remains an open question.

            The Donald will be lucky to escape impeachment, and, perhaps even prison. He appears to be unacquainted with the concept of truth, and regards inconvenient facts as fake news. He cannot control his temper, his mouth, and his appetites. Wise lawyers would shudder at the thought of putting him under oath. It’s most likely impossible to counsel a man about the dangers of perjury or false statement prosecutions when the keel that anchors a man to common sense and a world of values shared by reasonable people is broken.

            Yes, Donald Trump is president. He was elected, whether fairly or not. Some report he was surprised he actually won the election. Perhaps he’d prefer not to govern. Certainly his irrationality and inability to follow the advice of reasonable lawyers suggest that being president of the United States is not among his top priorities.

            I know Donald Trump only reads what he agrees with. And I’d wager all I own he does not read this blog. But if anyone has his ear, they ought to whisper, no shout, the following into it: The law is not a game of chance. Good lawyering matters. Find a lawyer you trust then learn to take advice and counsel.

            Or just keep running reckless and find yourself out of a job, and, perhaps, in a cell.

            We’re growing weary of Donald drama.


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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