In The Media Archive

“Quest for Justice” by Richard S. Jaffe is certain to join the ranks of recent criminal defense nonfiction classics such as “Dead Man Walking” by Sister Helen Prejean; “An Innocent Man” by John Grisham; and “Actual Innocence” by Peter Neufeld, Barry Scheck, and Jim Dwyer. “Quest for Justice” belongs in this company because it is every bit as well-written and powerful as these three books, and because Jaffe is a giant in the field of death penalty litigation.

“Quest for Justice” describes some of the death penalty cases that Jaffe has handled in the state of Alabama. Jaffe has worked on more than sixty death penalty cases, in addition to countless other major felonies. Two of his clients were profiled in the Broadway play, “The Exonerated.” and Jaffe also represented Eric Rudolph, who was charged with several abortion clinic bombings in the South, as well as with the deaths in the Olympic Park bombings during the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta.

Unlike many books by trial lawyers, “Quest for Justice” is not mostly about the lawyer; rather, it is about the clients — Jaffe’s ego is absent. His book gives us only the basic biographical details and quickly launches into the stories of his death penalty cases.

Jaffe is a warrior without being self-righteous. He is against the death penalty, not only because he believes that it is immoral, but because it does not work — it never has and never will deter murder — and Jaffe makes a cogent case for this view.

If, like me, you read many books about our criminal justice system, then, after a time, you think you’ve read it all — stories about jailhouse snitches; faulty eyewitness identifications; prosecutors who withhold evidence; defense attorneys who are ineffective because they are inexperienced, unmotivated, or overwhelmed; a death penalty lottery in which a disproportionately high number of African-Americans lose; mentally ill defendants who are mistreated or undertreated by the system — the list goes on. What makes “Quest for Justice” stand out, and be more than a catalogue of the deficiencies in the criminal justice system or a collection of war stories, is that it provides a good deal of explanation and analysis of how the criminal justice system works — or doesn’t work. And Jaffe’s explanations and analyses are neither tedious nor patronizing.

Moreover, the characters in “Quest for Justice” come alive. For me, the most colorful — and frightening — character in the book is Alabama Judge Jack Montgomery. He is an old-school judge who figured in many of Jaffe’s cases. Judge Montgomery demeaned both defendants and their attorneys, and he made no effort to hide his prejudices. As the years went by, it became apparent to the courthouse regulars that he was not merely offensive, but unbalanced and crooked. The judge even pulled a gun in open court on Jaffe, and had to be wrestled to the ground by his staff. He was finally convicted of soliciting and taking bribes.

If you do not have time to read the entire book (although it is well-written, it is not a light read), read the chapter on Jaffe’s representation of Eric Rudolph. There you get a glimpse of Jaffe’s commitment to his client as well as insights into the mind and motivation of someone accused of the most hideous of crimes. Jaffe spent countless hours talking with Rudolph and learning of such things as the death of Rudolph’s father, the suicide of his former girlfriend, his experiences in the Army, and his mother’s religious influence on him. Jaffe’s diligence in doing this research was vital to representing Rudolph effectively. Ultimately, Rudolph pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Criminal defense lawyers are constantly asked, “How can you defend those people?” Jaffe’s comment about Eric Rudloph’s case provides the perfect answer:

“Eric Rudolph embodied one of the reasons why I do what I do. Representing the most unpopular and despised of our society is, in my opinion, the hallmark of a true criminal defense lawyer. John Adams did this when he defended the British soldiers who shot their weapons openly into the crowd during the Boston Massacre. When advocating for someone this unpopular we are also representing our profession, which is committed to safeguarding the rights of the least among us and the constitutional protections that everyone has, no matter what he is charged with or what his beliefs are.”

“Quest for Justice” can be read and enjoyed by lawyers and non-lawyers alike. But, more importantly, it should be read by everyone who cares about the criminal justice system.

Note: A version of this review will appear in the May 2012 edition of The Federal Lawyer.

Second Note: Mr. Jaffe and I both serve on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Source: http://elizabethkelleylaw.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/book-review-quest-for-justice-defending-the-damned-by-richard-s-jaffe/, published on Monday, March 5th, 2012 at 5:11 pm

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Alabama attorney questions death penalty in new book

Posted February 19, 2012 By manzur

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.

Alabama defense attorney Richard Jaffe speaks with a client charged with murder in Birmingham, Ala.

Alabama defense attorney Richard Jaffe speaks with a client charged with murder in Birmingham, Ala.

After defending more than 60 people charged with capital murder and getting three men off Alabama’s death row, attorney Richard Jaffe wants to get people talking about the death penalty and what he believes are its flaws.

The longtime Alabama defense lawyer, who once represented Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph, has written a book detailing many of the cases in his long career and explaining problems he has experienced with the capital-justice system.

In “Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned,” Jaffe details what he sees as recurring problems with death-penalty litigation: Unqualified lawyers handling complex capital issues, a system that doesn’t provide enough money for the defense to investigate cases and hire experts and the arbitrary nature of death sentences.

“I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind,” Jaffe said during an interview in his office. “I wrote the book to invite people to question the death-penalty system.”

Jaffe spent years on the book partly because of his heavy case load. He tried a murder case last month in Birmingham, winning an acquittal of his client after jurors deliberated only about 20 minutes.

Randal Padgett hasn’t yet read “Quest for Justice,” but he plans to soon: He’s among the three Alabama people Jaffe helped free from death row. The three are among almost 140 people who have been freed from death sentences nationwide after initially being convicted and condemned to die.

Padgett, 51, now runs a small store in the north Alabama city of Guntersville. Of his one-time attorney he said simply: “I love Richard.”

Padgett spent more than three years on death row after being convicted of capital murder in the slaying of wife Cathy Padgett, found dead in their north Alabama home in 1990 with dozens of stab wounds. A court ruled that prosecutors didn’t give the defense an adequate opportunity to review forensic evidence and ordered a retrial, resulting in Padgett’s acquittal and release from death row with Jaffe serving as his lawyer.”If that hadn’t happened, I’d probably be dead by now,” Padgett said. “I used to think that in the United States of America you didn’t go to prison if you were innocent, but I found out that’s not the way it works.”

Clay Crenshaw, an assistant attorney general who specializes in handling death-penalty cases for the state, said only two of three people Jaffe helped free from death row were acquitted at retrials; the third, James “Bo” Cochran, was convicted on a lesser charge and freed from prison on time served. And, he said, police never charged anyone else in the slayings first blamed on Padgett and Jaffe’s other exonerated death row client, Gary Drinkard.

“I am not aware of the district attorney in those counties conducting any investigation to search for the `real murderer,”‘ Crenshaw said. “While Jaffe might celebrate these three cases, they all involved individuals who were convicted of capital murder and are now walking the streets.”
Jaffe, who almost accidentally became a capital-defense specialist after being appointed to a death-penalty case three decades ago, uses Padgett’s case and others to write that the system is badly flawed.

“I always keep in mind the maxim that history will judge a society by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable,” he writes. “Although most would assume that applies to the poor and the elderly, all one has to do is look at those who end up on death row: an overwhelming number are poor, disenfranchised and suffer from some mental defect or even brain damage.”

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Ala. attorney questions death penalty in new book

Posted February 1, 2012 By manzur

(01-27) 12:24 PST Birmingham, Ala. (AP) —

Alabama defense attorney Richard Jaffe speaks with a client charged with murder in Birmingham

In this 2008 file photo, Alabama defense attorney Richard Jaffe speaks with a client charged with murder in Birmingham, Ala. Jaffe, after defending more than 60 people charged with capital murder and getting three men off Alabama's death row, has written a book he hopes will get people talking about the death penalty and what he believes are its flaws. (AP Photo/The News, Michelle Williams)

After defending more than 60 people charged with capital murder and getting three men off Alabama’s death row, attorney Richard Jaffe wants to get people talking about the death penalty and what he believes are its flaws.

The longtime Alabama defense lawyer, who once represented Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph, has written a book detailing many of the cases in his long career and explaining problems he has experienced with the capital justice system.

In “Quest for Justice: Defending the Damned,” Jaffe details what he sees as recurring problems with death penalty litigation: Unqualified lawyers handling complex capital issues; a system that doesn’t provide enough money for the defense to investigate cases and hire experts; and the arbitrary nature of death sentences.

“I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind,” Jaffe said during an interview in his office. “I wrote the book to invite people to question the death penalty system.”

Jaffe spent years on the book partly because of his heavy case load. He tried a murder case just last week in Birmingham, winning an acquittal of his client after jurors deliberated only about 20 minutes.

Randal Padgett hasn’t yet read “Quest for Justice,” but he plans to soon: He’s among the three Alabama people Jaffe helped free from death row. The three are among almost 140 people who have been freed from death sentences nationwide after initially being convicted and condemned to die.

Once confined to a 40-square-foot cell near the electric chair, Padgett, 51, now runs a small store in the north Alabama city of Guntersville. Of his one-time attorney he said simply: “I love Richard.”

Padgett spent more than three years on death row after being convicted of capital murder in the slaying of wife Cathy Padgett, found dead in their north Alabama home in 1990 with dozens of stab wounds. A court ruled that prosecutors didn’t give the defense an adequate opportunity to review forensic evidence and ordered a retrial, resulting in Padgett’s acquittal and release from death row with Jaffe serving as his lawyer.

“If that hadn’t happened, I’d probably be dead by now,” Padgett said. “I used to think that in the United States of America you didn’t go to prison if you were innocent, but I found out that’s not the way it works.”

Clay Crenshaw, an assistant attorney general who specializes in handling death penalty cases for the state, said only two of three people Jaffe helped free from death row were acquitted at retrials; the third, James “Bo” Cochran, was convicted on a lesser charge and freed from prison on time served. And, he said, police never charged anyone else in the slayings first blamed on Padgett and Jaffe’s other exonerated death row client, Gary Drinkard.

“I am not aware of the district attorney in those counties conducting any investigation to search for the ‘real murderer,'” Crenshaw said. “While Jaffe might celebrate these three cases, they all involved individuals who were convicted of capital murder and are now walking the streets.”

Jaffe, who almost accidentally became a capital defense specialist after being appointed to a death penalty case three decades ago, uses Padgett’s case and others to write that the system is badly flawed. The book will be released Feb. 1 by New Horizon Press of Far Hills, N.J.

While Alabama’s system is particularly troubled, he writes, dozens of people have been wrongly convicted and executed nationwide.

“I always keep in mind the maxim that history will judge a society by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable,” he writes. “Although most would assume that applies to the poor and the elderly, all one has to do is look at those who end up on death row: an overwhelming number are poor, disenfranchised and suffer from some mental defect or even brain damage.”

Rudolph is the most famous of Jaffe’s clients. Jaffe represented him for more than a year after his capture, withdrawing from the case before the loner pleaded guilty to bombing a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998 and setting off bombs at the Olympics and elsewhere in Atlanta earlier. The deal allowed Rudolph to avoid a possible death sentence.

Jaffe got along with Rudolph, who admitted to planting the abortion clinic bomb in what he said was a bid to save the lives of unborn children. But Rudolph didn’t express remorse for the death of a Birmingham police officer killed by the blast, and Jaffe said Rudolph’s actions highlighted a big difference between them.

“In every case, my fervent stance against the death penalty precludes a person or the government from taking any life, for any reason,” he writes. “Only the God I believe in should do that, without human intervention.”

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