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Heard on Campus

While at Penn to deliver the annual Hon. A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Lecture, Charles J. Ogletree Jr., founder and director of Harvard's Criminal Justice Institute, recounted a pivotal exchange in his life. It occurred while interviewing for a job at the Washington, D.C., public defender's office two decades ago:
   "I said, 'I don't think I can represent just anyone, because I'm concerned as a black man about what I can and cannot do ...
Illustration by Amanda Duffy
I don't want to represent anyone who has been responsible for killing anyone or using a gun or knife to injure someone. I don't want to represent anyone who's actually broken into someone's home ... And I certainly couldn't represent anyone who has sold or used drugs ... '"
   "Mr. Ogletree," his future employer replied sharply, "we don't need someone to represent those charged with petty larceny."
   "That was for me a crossing of the Rubicon -- an understanding that if I was going to do this work, I had to do it with a real commitment," Ogletree told the audience at Penn's Law School in November. Ogletree, who went on to represent such clients as Anita Hill, the late Tupac Shakur, and convicted mob boss John Gotti, described how he came to represent Gotti -- who, shortly before his arrest in 1992, happened to see Ogletree on a public-television ethics forum:
   "He was watching this African-American lawyer go through what he called this 'blistering cross-examination' of [Supreme Court] Justice Antonin Scalia. He said, 'Gosh, I'd like that lawyer. He's very ethical' ... He wanted me to represent him. I don't think John ever saw the irony of that."

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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 2/3/98