PRINT PAGEPhillip A. Hubbart

Written by Roy Black

Honorable Phillip A. Hubbart

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

   –Joseph Campbell, author, philosopher, teacher (1904-1987)

I became a criminal lawyer on the corner of Bird Road and Dixie Highway on November 3, 1970. I had just passed the bar exam and was driving downtown to a job interview. I didn’t have any great prospects and knew little about Miami law firms or even the practice of law, but hope springs eternal and it blossomed in this mundane intersection. It was election day and Phil Hubbart was standing on a small island that is no longer there, holding up a campaign sign while waving at cars, seeking votes for public defender. I pulled over to lend moral support and another pair of arms. Phil finally got tired and suggested coffee at the Hot Shoppes on the corner. He offered me a job and I promptly accepted. Fortunately, that night he won the election.

Hubbart recruited a young band of lawyers, fresh out of law school, too young and inexperienced to know what they were in for. The ten of us were sworn in on January 5, 1971. An auspicious day. Only ten to represent all the poor people arrested in Dade County. Surely an impossible task. But it soon became even more perilous. The old PD’s office was a joke. It had part time lawyers who came in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and waived jury in every case. They worked those two days and had a private practice the rest of the week. Hubbart pledged to change all this, and change it we did.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that, “[I]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” But that right was of no value to the poorest defendants until 1963, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. In Gideon, the Court, interpreting the right to counsel, recognized that “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.”

Gideon had been convicted without a lawyer, but was acquitted on remand with an appointed lawyer. What better proof the Supreme Court got it right? The absurdity of indigents defending themselves against professional prosecutors was over. The tectonic plates were shifting in the criminal courts and the old guard was frightened of the change. Dade County created a public defender office, but it didn’t have any teeth until Hubbart was elected.

He had the vision of a real law office representing those too poor to hire private counsel. Not a paper tiger. Not a lawyer in name only. But a real lawyer who aggressively and competently represented the poor, the weak and the despised. He was a lone voice in the wilderness. The system had no interest in changing, and only sought to continue the way things had always been. Real lawyers meant more work, and perhaps for a change, the state might not convict everybody.

We ten made a pact with Phil to demand a jury trial in every case. A radical departure which outraged the incumbent judges. The judges loved the old system since it quickly reduced their case loads and left the afternoons open for golf. Immediately we caused a huge log jam of pending trials. In fact, I started a second degree murder trial the next day, January 6, 1971, with my trial partner Dennis Holober. Somehow, I can’t recall at this distance whether the client was acquitted, but I am sure of one thing — I didn’t contribute much to the result.

Hubbart was the ultimate professional. He demanded that every defendant get equal treatment, echoing Justice Hugo Black that the type of trial a man gets shouldn’t depend on how much money he has. Beautiful words, but until Hubbart took over the PD’s office, it was an aspiration rarely accomplished. And we did it on a shoestring. The office budget that first year was $125,000 and we assistants were paid a munificent salary of $8,500. I didn’t complain since that was more than I ever made before. I rented an efficiency within three blocks of the Justice Building so I could grab a few hours of sleep each night.

The reaction to our bucking of the system was quick and forceful. They brought in judges from all over the state to try cases in an effort to break our will. Trials went deep into the night and verdicts at 1, 2 and 3 am were not unusual. One week I tried three jury trials. The battle lasted for 18 months, and finally the judges recognized reality and the system accepted that poor people could get the same type of trial as rich ones.

Those eighteen months of trench warfare made us battle-hardened veterans, mature beyond our years. Nothing could intimidate us. Hubbart never gave an inch, nor did we.

This radical change in the justice system was the product of one man, Phil Hubbart. He worked unceasingly for this ideal. He provided all the support he could to each of us. We labored long and hard knowing he would unquestionably back us up. There was no political in-fighting such as plagued the State Attorney’s Office. When Denaro and I were held in contempt for refusing to turn over incriminating evidence to prosecutors, Hubbart appeared and sprung us from a nasty holding cell in the DC jail. We didn’t even have to drink the Kool Aid or eat a baloney sandwich.

Hubbart spent 6 years as the PD, then moved on to the Third District Court of Appeal where he ascended to chief judge. He loved the academic part of the law and the appellate court was a perfect fit. He was a great trial lawyer but the hustle of the criminal courts was not in his blood. The ten of us feasted on it until we reached burnout and dropped off one after another for private practice. The office has burgeoned since then and now has 185 assistants and an equal number of support staff. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but it is not the same. It would be hard to match the spirit and camaraderie of the original group. Over the years, many fine lawyers have passed through those doors, but I have a special place in my memory for the original wild bunch.

For those of us who were assistant PD’s from January 1971 through 1976, we directly owe our careers to Hubbart. Those who arrived afterwards indirectly owe the same homage. The creation of the office, its aggressive attitude and incomparable experience, is attributable to one man. We received a priceless gift.

I have watched a lot of awards given over the years to judges and lawyers. I have even gotten a few myself. But for some reason, Hubbart has never gotten the recognition he deserves. Hubbart’s vision and energy fundamentally changed the system of justice in Miami. No single person has done as much, yet who acknowledges it today? His legacy is a public defender system that is among the best in this nation, but that is not enough. Hubbart is a quiet and humble man who seeks not fame or recognition but rather the contemplative life of a thinker. It is to our disgrace that we have not done more to recognize him. The Justice Building was re-named a few years ago after the former State Attorney Richard Gerstein. If there was any justice, it would be named after Hubbart because it is he who brought justice to the building.


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23 Comments to Phillip A. Hubbart

  1. June 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Who were the ten APDs you speak about. Not all of your readers are privy to the fond memories you speak about. I would really appreciate their names an d maybe a war story or two. thx.

  2. arturo alvarez's Gravatar arturo alvarez
    June 14, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Roy, I could not agree with you more. So many owe so much to this one man. He not only literally evened the playing field for the indigent, but set the standard for competence and professionalism for so many lawyers. Hell, I tried a case against and learned more in one trial from him than any seminar I have ever attended. A genuine class act and a fan of the Pink Panther movies. I will be at the event and so will a lot of people whose lives he touched. Kudos to you for taking the time to do this,
    Arturo Alvarez

  3. June 14, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow man… I am sure I can speak for many by saying ” I had no idea! ” !

    And I am further inspired, moved and just flat out full of respect… for you and the crew, and mostly for Dr. Hubbart.

    Monument’S’ should be named after him if any of you ask me.

    I rest my case

  4. June 14, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful piece about a true gentleman, scholar, and public servant. Judge Hubbart, a man of humility, is probably embarrassed to read the praise, but it truly deserved. Bravo, Roy!

  5. Irv Lamel's Gravatar Irv Lamel
    June 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I was an intern in the office in 1975 and was hired as a PD in 1976 by Phil. I was thrilled. By then, salaries had gone all the way up to $12,000. No matter. I was paid much more by what I learned about how to be a PD and, more importantly, how to be lawyer, all by attempting to meet the standards that Phil set for the office. Roy, this idea should be pursued.

  6. Lauri Waldman Ross's Gravatar Lauri Waldman Ross
    June 15, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I was lucky enough to be Judge Hubbart’s second law clerk. He approached every case exactly the same way-find out all the law on a subject and right a masterful opinion summarizing it. Judge Hubbart rarely spoke about himself. Years later, I had a case with Henry Latimer. He shared the following story. As a black lawyer, his options for private practice were limited, if existent. He was assigned a criminal death penalty case, which he had no experience to handle. Someone advised him to call Phil Hubbart. Hubbart sat through the entire trial with him, and coached him through it all. His only reward was to be of assistance to a young lawyer who needed him. It made an indelible impression on Latimer, and his listener.

    June 15, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Count me in Roy. Although I must say your piece scared me at first since it reads like an obituary. I know he is alive and well teaching his 4th Am class, among other things. He helped me do a complete analysis of a suppression issue recently. thanks for this!


  8. Woody R. Clermont's Gravatar Woody R. Clermont
    June 15, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Having been one of many students in his wonderful Fourth Amendment class a few moons ago, I was greatly influenced by his wisdom in this area of law. So much so, it inspired me to write a law journal article about the current direction of the Supreme Court in the area of Fourth Amendment law and the issue of racial profiling. See “You Can’t Beat the Ride: The Increasing Rules of Evidence Inclusion,” 10 Appalachian J.L. 65 (Winter 2011).

    To quote a relevant portion from the first footnote:

    “I would like to thank Phillip Hubbart of Wetherington, Klein & Hubbart in Miami, former Chief Judge of the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida, as well as former Public Defender for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. His invaluable teachings illuminated my path to understanding Fourth Amendment law. ”

    His book “Making Sense Of Search And Seizure Law: A Fourth Amendment Handbook” (Carolina Academic Press 2005, ISBN 1-59460-063-5) should be required reading for any who want a firm grasp of this area of Criminal Procedure. And mind you, I’m a former ASA.

    I am also very relieved that he remains alive and well.

  9. Marcia Silvers's Gravatar Marcia Silvers
    June 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Let me know what I can do to help. People like him are few and far between!


  10. Phillip A. Hubbart's Gravatar Phillip A. Hubbart
    June 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Dear Roy,

    I’m overwhelmed !!

    Frankly, your piece says as much about you as it does about me. You have always been a loyal friend and a superb lawyer over the years — and I deeply appreciate what you have written.

    Those early years at the Dade PD office in the 1970’s were truly — as you have described — an Age of Camelot. I look back on them with great nostalgia. So many of you young turks were so fearless, so able, so dedicated — and later went on to splendid legal careers. I am so very proud of each and every one of you.

    Best —Phil

  11. Ivy Ginsberg's Gravatar Ivy Ginsberg
    June 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    In addition to radically changing the way indigent defendants were represented by the Public Defender’s office, Judge Hubbart had a tremendous influence on many of us who practiced before him at the Third District Court of Appeal. He was so very skillful at getting at the core of any case, yet always polite and respectful to the litigants.

    There are many organizations who could recognize his contributions if only someone submitted a nomination. The Florida Bar Criminal Law Section presents the Selig I. Goldin Award, its most prestigious award to a member of the Florida Bar who has displayed the talents and compassion possessed by the late Selig Goldin, a lawyer who was dedicated to justice, a zealous advocate for his clients at the annual convention.

    FACDL-Miami gives out numerous awards at its Annual Dinner for which Phillip A. Hubbart could be nominated.

    The ACLU, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and a number of other organizations would welcome a nomination of Phil Hubbart to recognize his tremendous contribution to the practice of law and social justice and his service on the bench. Let’s not miss these opportunities in the near future.

  12. June 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Well written. Words and recognition long overdue.

  13. Bob Becerra's Gravatar Bob Becerra
    June 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Judge Hubbart taught me appellate practice and Florida Criminal Procedure at UM law while I was there 1987-1990. A great teacher, a man of great humility, and I agree, underappreciated.

  14. June 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    A lot of references to Mr Hubbart in the archived issues of the Miami News. Here’s one:
    Pitts, Lee trial set to begin, Feb 21, 1972

  15. Ken white's Gravatar Ken white
    June 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Phil Hubbart was my first boss as I was one of his
    last hires before he passed the battion to Bennett.
    I learned my ABC’s of trial advocacy from
    the immediate inheritors of the group which
    you reminisce when remembering those wonderful
    days. Vinnie Flynn and Billy Clay and Tarkoff and
    MadDog Mike Von Zampft all fought for our
    Clients with the ideals and aggressiveness which Roy
    and Jack taught them. Hopefully we passed that on
    but the fact remains when asked who my heroes were
    In my life-the first name for over thirty years(ouch) has
    been Phil Hubbart. Thanks for remembering him with such
    Affection and clarity.

    and Mad Dog Von Zampft all taught me about
    the ideals

  16. June 16, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Weren’t Bruce Michael Cohen and Tom Morgan also a part of that early PD bunch? Also, the PD’s Office of that time period reminds me of the old Legal Services on the civil side. Those lawyers fought diligently for indigent folks also.

  17. Bennett Brummer's Gravatar Bennett Brummer
    June 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree that Phil Hubbart is an under-appreciated and under-recognized legal treasure. Phil transformed not only the Dade County public defender’s office, but my professional world by personally demonstrating the nobility of defender work. While running for public defender in 1970, Phil promised to professionalize the office. He fulfilled that promise only by overcoming serious internal and external resistance. Phil recruited a number of other lawyers, including me, during that election. I went to work for him in April 1971 and maintained my formal relationship with that office for 40 years.
    At great personal risk, Phil (along with Maurice Rosen and Irwin Block) volunteered to represent Wilburt Pitts and Freddie Lee in a sensational capital murder case in the rural Florida panhandle. The case involved the conviction of innocent men through the use of coerced confessions, false testimony, and suppressed evidence. See Gene Miller, Invitation to a Lynching (Doubleday, 1975). In 1980, Phil was the dissenting member of a Third District panel whose majority ruled that the public defender’s office had to take whatever workload was assigned to it, regardless of its capacity to provide the constitutionally and professionally required counsel. Phil’s moral and legal position was adopted by the Florida Supreme Court. Along with countless outstanding appellate opinions, Phil authored an outstanding book, Making Sense of Search and Seizure Law: A Fourth Amendment Handbook (Carolina Academic Press, 2005). This week, some of us supported Phil’s nomination to become a “Legal Legend,” a recognition sponsored by the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Historical Society. Although this effort was unsuccessful, we will try again next year. Phil deserves all the appreciation we can give him and all the recognition we can get him.

  18. June 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Upon gradation from law school in 1972, Phil Hubbart hired me as an Assistant Public Defender. Those were the best years of my professional career. The Warren Court has given life to the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments. It was a great time to practice criminal defense law. But what made it an even greater time, was working for and with Phil Hubbart.
    Now let’s get to awards and honors. Phil is deserving of many. And, of course, Phil would never say this, but in 2006, Phil was the recipient of the Dade County Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Award. That Award honors an individual who has made an “outstanding contribution to the Criminal Justice System.” In 2009, Phil was once again recognized when the Dade County Bar presented him with the David W. Dyer Professionalism Award. This is the highest honor the Dade County Bar bestows upon anyone.
    I personally believe that there are not enough honors and awards to recognize all that Phil has contributed: to the system; the lawyers that worked for and with him; the clients he represented; and the many students that pass through his classroom year after year.

  19. June 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    words alone cannot express the esteem with which i hold PHIL HUBBERT. during the 1970’s he was my first boss straight out of lawschool . as a freshman assistant public defender you often felt all alone in a hostle legal environment. But, you could always count on phil to stand with you especially in unpopular cases when you thought the world was against you. many a personal problem was laid before him and he did his best to help his assistant p. d.’s find a solution. 3 cheers for phil hubbert. there was a man, when comes another?——davis cohen

  20. Richard Sharpstein's Gravatar Richard Sharpstein
    June 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Roy. Your eloquent words in tribute to a wonderful man and dedicated lawyer bring back fond memories of the (Richard E. Gerstein) Justice Bldg in the 70’s. Mr. Gerstein was my Phil Hubbart. Phil and Richard inspired and drove us all in pursuit of Justice. I learned my trade by getting my ass kicked regularly by Vinny Flynn, Bill Clay, Mike Tarkoff , Von Zampft( yeah VZ) ,Bill Aaron et al. I watched you and Jack in awe. Trying cases vs Eddie O’Donnell, Terry McWilliams, Jim Woodard, Arty Alvarez et al. A Truly Golden Age that will never be recaptured. Phil. mazel Tov. You deserve the praise

  21. June 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I first met Phil when I took his Criminal Evidence Workshop my 2nd yr of law school at night. I was one of the first “Interns” to the orginal 10. Tom Morgan was my Senior Trial Attorney. He later became my law partner. Phil through us into the fire immediately. As a young attorney I was trying cases against the Major Crime Prosecuters such as Dubitski, McWillaims, “Little Doug Williams, Drawbert, Woodward, Eddie O, Graves,Raffle and many others. Phil’s door was always open if you needed help or encouragement. When judges complained that we were too aggressive Phil always had our backs. The SAO and PD offices were in same building. We played softball together, dated there secrectaries, and drank with them and tried cases against them. This was the golden age in the justice building. Phil called us the “young turks” and we took no prisoners. After I was hired, came VZ,Clay,Tark,Vinnie Flynn, Dr. Gross, Gilmour,Messerman, Rosen, Bronis and many others. Phil collected an amazing amount of talent and built up the appeallate division, with Beth, Elliot, Paul Morris and others. This was truly the golden age in the building. Phil is gracious and humble and truly has no idea how many young attorneys he has influenced over the years. and , of course, watching Jack and Roy pull trick after trick on the prosecuters was amazing. I still laugh when I recall some of the stuff they did. When one of us was in trial, it was common to see several PDs who were not in trial sitting in the courtroom providing support. I sat in awe watching Phil and Rothenberg try a murder case using the insantiy defense. Phil, thanks for being there. You are truly one of a kind.

  22. Amy's Gravatar Amy
    June 20, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow! I saw your advertisement for a legal secretary and, before applying for the position, I wanted to check out your web site. It often says a lot about the firm and the people who are part of it. In this instance, I was right on with that theory. The blog you wrote about Phil Hubbart, a man I knew nothing about until this evening, was very inspiring. Your words and the entire story send two very important messages. One is that there are still lawyers (and their staff) who practice law not only for the money but just as much or even more for the non-monetary rewards, i.e. helping someone and feeling as though you are making a difference in the world and in someone’s life. The second message your story sends is that it is important to let people know the difference they have made in this world while they are still here with us instead of waiting to read it in the form of a eulogy.

  23. William J. Cuddihy, Ph.D.'s Gravatar William J. Cuddihy, Ph.D.
    August 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Dear Judge Hubbart:

    I have seen some advertisements for your book on the Fourth Amendment but have not yet obtained a copy or read it. I note that your bibliography includes my book on the same subject. I like to exchange views with you.

    William Cuddihy, Ph.D.
    (909) 623-7381

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