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Bob Goldsmith on Being a Criminal Defense Lawyer

"I wanted to do something to help people, especially the underdogs...and I wanted to stand up for people."

Why did you go to law school?

A number of reasons: inspired by friends of my father who were lawyers; as an undergrad, I loved my constitutional law professor and the rigors of the subject; I wanted to do something to help people, especially the underdogs; I liked logical argument based on facts and public speaking; and I wanted to stand up for people.

When you went to law school, did you intend to become a criminal defense lawyer?


Have you ever been a prosecutor?

One summer in law school.

If so, what did you learn from that experience?

I could understand them but could never be one of them.

Who are your mentors?  What have you learned from them?

In law school I worked at the Milwaukee appellate defender my first summer and had great mentors there.  Later, in my third year, I was in a clinic defending ordinance violations and some public defenders were my supervisors and mentors.  Later at TDA, Ron Kessler and Mark Leemon were supervisors and great teachers.  From all of these people I learned how to argue a case, be passionate, relate to clients, prepare a case and talk to a jury.

Tell us about a case you've worked on that made you proud to be a defense lawyer.

It was a murder case from my public defender days in about 1984.  Our client did not want to fight this bully but foolishly agreed to go outside the bar.  He did not start the fight, but was punched and attacked first and during the scuffle, he pulled a steak knife from his sock and stabbed him 8 times while they were grappling.  They were pulled apart and then the attacker collapsed.  He did not die right away, but lived about 10 days more.

The first time I tried this case with co-counsel Jean Reitschel (now judge) and the jury convicted him.  Some jurors came to the sentencing, but he was sent to prison for 20 years—this was a pre-SRA case.  Mike Filipovic (now the federal defender) wrote the appeal and got a reversal because the self defense instructions did not properly shift the burden to the state.  Mike and I re-tried the case before Judge Elston, a very fair but demanding judge.  The jury convicted again.  The client had done 2 years in prison and had cleaned up his act, avoiding the crack epidemic.  Amazingly before trial we got him released due to his perfect conduct in prison. And then the 2nd miracle: Judge Elston gave him a 20 year suspended sentence—he never went back to prison.

My client and I became friends after that.  Over the years he would stop by my office and I would buy him lunch or give him money, since he did not have much.  Once he hauled some trash for me and my wife met him and genuinely liked him, too.  When he was diagnosed with lung cancer, I visited him in the hospital and later would buy lunch and bring it to his apt. in Holly Park.  Sadly I saw him just a few days before he died.  He was the sweetest client I ever had.

Briefly describe your practice.

Solo practice, about half of which are court appointments.  I am probably unusual in that I am a general criminal lawyer and defend misdemeanors including DUI’s, felonies and federal offenses.

What else would you like WACDL members (and others) to know about you/your practice?

I was the training coordinator at The Defender Association from 1988-1990. It was the best job in the office — training new p.d.’s and co-trying cases with them.  I loved teaching and was invited by professors at Seattle U — Jan Ainsworth and Jon Strait to teach there and I have been teaching one course a year on criminal motions practice since 2000.

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