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Complete Lawyer in Kaczynski's Corner
By Howard Mintz, 6/18/96
With less than three weeks on the job, new Sacramento Federal Public Defender Quin Denvir has scarcely had a chance to hang his law degree on the office wall. But he apparently has taken over the office just in time to inherit a client suspected of being one of the most diabolical, complex and elusive criminals in U.S. history.
The impending indictment of Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski is about to rivet attention on Denvir, who took over the Sacramento defender's office at the beginning of June. An indictment is expected to be returned in Sacramento as early as this week, an event that will thrust the 56-year-old Denvir into the limelight and most likely consume the attention of his office.
Denvir, however, is unlikely to be the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. As one of California's most respected appellate lawyers, Denvir is no stranger to high-profile cases, from the Billionaire Boys Club murder to former California schools chief William Honig's conflict- of-interest conviction.
Denvir did not return three phone calls seeking comment on his possible role in the Unabomber case, a sign in itself that the defender's life already has been transformed: Denvir is usually quick to respond to the media. But he did tell the Sacramento Bee this weekend that he intends to "take a very active role" in leading the defense team.
Bay Area and Sacramento lawyers who know Denvir well predict that the Catholic-educated son of a Chicago trial lawyer is the right man for what may be a thankless, gut-wrenching job.
"Quin is a complete lawyer," says Sacramento defense attorney Clyde Blackmon. "He's both a trial lawyer and a good appellate lawyer. I've never heard anybody say a bad word about Quin."
While it is too early to determine if Denvir will act as Kaczynski's trial lawyer, defense specialists expect him to play a lead role in formulating strategy and assembling a defense team. Kaczynski has been represented by federal public defenders while in jail in Montana, so it is assumed that at least part of his representation will come from Denvir's office once the bombing charges are filed in the Eastern District of California.
A Justice Department indictment in Sacramento can be expected to hinge in large part on the most recent of the Unabomber's 16 attacks: the 1995 murder of timber industry lobbyist Gilbert Murray. Because the case is likely to be complex and include capital charges, Kaczynski will be entitled to several court-appointed lawyers.
In this regard, Denvir's close ties to the Bay Area defense community could become important: He has longstanding bonds with fellow appellate specialist Dennis Riordan and San Francisco Federal Public Defender Barry Portman, who many local lawyers say will have an influential role in Kaczynski's defense.
Portman, often relied on for advice by other public defenders in the Ninth Circuit, declined comment on what role, if any, he expects to play. But his praise for Denvir, who he has known since the early 1970s, is effusive.
"The bottom line with Quin is that he is very committed to representing the indigent," Portman says.
From The Golden Dome to the Capitol Dome Denvir was picked earlier this year to head Sacramento's federal public defender ranks by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which in the process chose to oust veteran Sacramento Federal Public Defender Arthur Ruthenbeck. Ruthenbeck, who could not be reached for comment, is slated next month to take a chief administrator's job in the San Francisco office of the state public defender.
The Ninth Circuit made the switch without much fanfare, in part because there is not much that is controversial about Denvir. The only open criticism has come from a small group of Sacramento defense lawyers who complained that he favored Bay Area lawyers while running the indigent defense program for the Third and Fifth District state courts of appeal.
For Denvir, becoming federal public defender brings him full circle, back to the public sector after years of establishing a strong private practice in Sacramento. In fact, Denvir really made his name in California by serving as the state public defender from 1978 to 1984.
A Chicago native, Denvir is a University of Notre Dame graduate who got his law degree from the University of Chicago School of Law. After a brief taste of big-firm life in Washington, D.C.'s Covington & Burling, Denvir moved to California with his brother in 1971 to work for California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. (Denvir's brother, John, is now a law professor at the University of San Francisco.)
Friends say Denvir's father, a trial lawyer himself, advised his son that he needed to gain trial experience, so he joined the Monterey public defender's office in the mid-1970s. Denvir later was appointed chief counsel for the state department of health by Gov. Jerry Brown, which led to his appointment in 1978 to head the state PD's office.
Denvir led the state defender's office until 1984, when Republican Gov. George Deukmejian began to cut funding and staffing for the operation. At that point, Denvir headed for private practice, becoming a partner in the Sacramento office of Marron, Reid & Sheehy. With his reputation as an appellate guru solidified, Denvir struck out on his own in 1987, starting a small practice he maintained until this month.
Now, as federal public defender, Denvir's lengthy resume may be reduced to one line: The lawyer who represents the Unabomber.
"He's obviously a guy who has a first-class academic pedigree," says Riordan. "And yet he's got street sense from living in Chicago and he likes to get in there and mix it up. I'm not saying there aren't people with more trial experience than Quin, but he has tried cases over a 25- year span. He can handle it."
Assembling A Trial Team Based on interviews with a dozen top defense specialists, a number of questions surround a prospective Denvir-led defense team. For one thing, many lawyers question whether Denvir can devote himself full time to such a complex case while simultaneously running a fairly large office.
The Sacramento federal public defender's office is actually considerably larger than Portman's: Denvir oversees 21 lawyers, while Portman has 16. "When you are coming in and just starting, it's a difficult thing to do," Portman says of taking on a case like Kaczynski's.
Denvir also faces the delicate issue of bringing in talented outside help from the private bar versus relying on his own lawyers. Sacramento's defense bar gives relatively good marks to lawyers in the PD's office, but Bay Area defense lawyers are less complimentary: They say Denvir could do better by attracting private lawyers from either Sacramento or San Francisco.
While rumors have been flying about possible candidates for a defense team, Denvir's plans remain a mystery. Defense lawyers with experience in complex cases say it is likely Denvir would divide tasks. For example, one lawyer would be appointed to handle death penalty issues.
There also has been considerable speculation that Montana Assistant Federal Public Defender Anthony Gallagher, who has represented Kaczynski since his arrest this spring, will remain on the case if it moves to California.
Gallagher declined comment on the issue.
In the meantime, defense lawyers are sizing up the possibility that Denvir himself might grab the chance of a lifetime and act as lead trial lawyer. And his friends and colleagues say it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Denvir as an appellate lawyer, pointing out that he learned his craft as a state public defender in Monterey.
In addition, Denvir has had broad familiarity with murder and death penalty issues as an appellate lawyer. Most recently, Denvir and Riordan have represented on appeal two defendants convicted in San Mateo County in connection with the Billionaire Boys Club case.
In addition, Denvir has been representing three death row inmates in their federal habeas corpus proceedings: Steven Ainsworth and David Breaux in Sacramento, and Thomas Thompson in Orange County. The capital expertise could be crucial in Kaczynski's case.
"He's smart and even-tempered," says East Bay defense attorney Cristina Arguedas, president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. "He's got a reputation as an appellate attorney, but he can try a case. He's so thorough it wouldn't be a problem."
NACDL President-Elect to Join Kaczynski Defense
By Howard Mintz, 7/16/96
Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski's defense team has received a jolt of star power, with the recruitment of the incoming president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Judy Clarke, the current federal public defender in Spokane and former head of the federal defender's office in San Diego, is expected to be added as co-counsel this week. Sacramento Federal Public Defender Quin Denvir has filed court papers asking U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. to appoint Clarke as second counsel for Kaczynski.
Clarke, who takes over as NACDL president next month, has run federal defender's offices for much of the past 13 years, gaining a reputation as one of the nation's foremost experts on the federal sentencing guidelines. She has even authored a book on the byzantine sentencing statutes, and distributes a monthly publication on developments in sentencing law called "guidelines grapevine."
The Unabomber prosecution is not the first time Clarke has jumped into a high-profile, complex and daunting defense situation: She volunteered to act as co-counsel for Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman convicted but spared the death penalty last year for murdering her two young sons.
"She is the patron saint of defense lawyers," said San Antonio defense attorney Gerald Goldstein, former head of NACDL. "[Her specialty] is impossible tasks that require untold amounts of labor and imagination. There is not anybody I'd rather have at my back in my courtroom."
Clarke, a South Carolina native, jumped into the Smith defense in part because she was well-acquainted with the lead defense lawyer, David Bruck. During the 1995 trial, Clarke was an integral part of the defense team, handling closing arguments in the guilt phase and assisting in the penalty phase. That experience could be important in defending Kaczynski, particularly in light of the fact that few federal practitioners have handled death penalty trials.
In the Smith trial Clarke also attacked law enforcement's preparation of crime scene evidence. Such experience could be important in defending Kaczyinski, who has been linked by extensive forensic and circumstantial evidence to the Unabomber's 18-year crime spree.
"What you get here is one of the most respected appellate advocates in the Ninth Circuit -- a household name," said San Francisco Federal Public Defender Barry Portman, who has lectured with Clarke over the years. "At the same time, you get somebody who has handled a major- league, high-profile death penalty case. It is a sensational combination."
Other Defense Team Candidates Kaczynski, whose next court appearance is scheduled for Friday, is charged with two murders and two other Unabomber -related bombings in the Sacramento indictment. The Justice Department has charged him under statutes that could bring the death penalty.
Clarke could not be reached for comment Monday on her involvement in the case. Denvir also could not be reached, although he said last week that he would prefer not to announce his defense team in increments.
At this point, it is unclear how much outside help Denvir will obtain to defend Kaczynski, although it is apparent he intends to retain a strong lead role for himself. Denvir has close ties to the Bay Area defense community, notably to Portman and appellate specialist Dennis Riordan, prompting speculation he may look locally for more help.
Portman, who declines to discuss his role in the case, already has assisted Denvir in a behind-the-scenes capacity. There also are persistent rumors in the local defense bar that death penalty specialist Gary Sowards might be called in if the Justice Department chooses to press for the death penalty.
Denvir last week declined to confirm the possible involvement of Sowards, a former California Appellate Project lawyer who is currently working on a class action challenge to the new habeas corpus statute before Chief U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. Sowards did not return three phone calls seeking comment.
Clarke, meanwhile, joins Denvir at a time when she is about to become the first public defender to head NACDL. It is not clear whether Clarke intends to continue running the defender's office in Spokane: She took a leave of absence for the Smith trial, and turned her fees from the case over to the federal defender's budget.
Lawyers who know both of Kaczysnki's defenders say Clarke and Denvir will present a formidable combination for the Justice Department's prosecution team.
"They are two lawyers who are so secure with themselves they don't
demand the spotlight, which will be important in a case like this,"
both articles appeared in The Recorder, A San Francisco Legal Newspaper
Copyright 1996, American Lawyer Media
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