On Saturday, May 12, 2012, I had the pleasure of presenting the FACDL lifetime achievement award to my former boss Phillip Hubbart. I have written of him before in this blog and I feel an obligation to tell his story and to keep his vision alive.
But there is more to it than this. This is personal. There are moments and events in our lives that transform us. Where we are molded and we become defined as something new and different and far superior. Joseph Campbell, who I also quote below, told us that we are all walking the Hero’s Journey and perhaps once in a while we get to be heroes. Phillip Hubbart equipped me and sent me on my journey for which I will always be grateful.
Here are my remarks at the presentation:
“Today the public defender’s office is a modern law office. We take for granted it supplies a great defense. It is packed full of experienced trial lawyers and staff. This was not always so.
It is hard to imagine its humble beginnings, created in the aftermath of Gideon, it was anemic and on life support. The deep south was not ready to accept public defense for indigent, mainly black defendants, not unlike how it refused to accept Brown v School Board. Indigents received a defense in name only. The bright light of Gideon was barely flickering. An empty promise.
One man’s vision radically changed that forever. He made the system live up to its promise: A promise that everyone, no matter how poor, no matter how unpopular, no matter what race, religion or nationality, would get the best defense he could muster.
Hubbart demanded that every defendant get equal treatment. He put clout into Justice Hugo Black’s fine words “the type of trial a man gets should not depend on how much money he has.” Beautiful, but empty words, and until Hubbart became the public defender it was an aspiration rarely accomplished.
When Phil was elected public defender it was a part time job. The assistants appeared in court only on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they would try thirty to forty short non jury trials. The other days could be spent in their private law offices.
Hubbart immediately changed that. He demanded his assistants work full time. He demanded that everyone got a jury trial. He demanded that everyone get a real defense. The days of phoning it in were over. And He did it on a shoestring. The office budget that first year was $125,000.
This was heresy to those running the system and they didn’t take it sitting down. They fought back for years until Hubbart’s corp of young lawyers beat them into submission.
This was accomplished through the vision of one man. His drive, energy and intelligence made that vision a reality. The high level of advocacy in this community today is a product of his vision.
We use the word hero far too loosely encompassing athletes, entertainers and vapid celebrities. Joseph Campbell wrote: ‘A hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself.’
Hubbart has given his life to the principles of equality, fairness and justice.
Hubbart is not perfect and he has one serious failing. He is too humble for his own good. I don’t know how he ever got elected to public office. When he gives his acceptance speech he will no doubt find many other people to give credit to. Don’t believe it.
This award stipulates that it is:
‘Given in recognition of a lifetime commitment to preserve the constitutional rights of all citizens and for manifesting the very best principles for which FACDL-Miami stands- openhearted devotion to justice, civility, discretion, courage, respect for human dignity and mercy.’
There is no one more deserving of this honor than my former boss, mentor and friend – Phillip Hubbart.”