By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (OCCDLA) held its annual Christmas Party on December 10, at the Coyle Law Firm in downtown Oklahoma City.
About 150 attendees were there from every facet of the legal community including lawyers, judges, and law enforcement. Among them were Judge Ray Elliott, former Judge Jerry Bass, and Sheriff John Whetsel.
Coyle Law Firm, led by John W. Coyle and his son Billy, has hosted the event for the last five years,
Billy is president of OCCDLA and JW, an OCCDLA past president, has been a longtime member and advocate of the group.
The party included an open bar with holiday spirits provided by attorney Tony Coleman along with a buffet by Bedlam Bar-B-Q.
Two OCCDLA members were honored during the event for their exceptional legal service in the community.
The 2015 Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award was given to attorney and OCCDLA past president Charles F. Cox. The award honors Cox for a career preserving the rights and defending the liberties of the accused.
Assistant Public Defender and OCCDLA secretary Robin McPhail-Bruno presented award that is named for former president of OCCDLA, Robert Manchester, who died in November 2012.
“Charlie Cox is a wonderful man and lawyer and I feel honored to call him my friend,” said Bruno. “He is an excellent advocate who has been practicing law for over 30 years. Despite his long history, he still asks some younger lawyers how he can improve his legal representation of clients. His knowledge of the law is mind blowing, yet he remains humble.”
Robert Manchester, the award’s namesake, led numerous Pro Bono actions on behalf of those deserving a fair break, particularly veterans. He served as Chief Municipal Judge for the City of The Village, Oklahoma, and among his many accolades, he received the esteemed Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association’s Lord Thomas Erskine Award.
Because of his passion for hot air ballooning, Manchester became known as the “Ballooning Barrister.”
Previous recipients of The Robert Manchester award include Chris Eulberg, David Autry and Frank Courbois.
Former OCCDLA president, Al Hoch, Jr. presented the organization’s prestigious 2015 Barry Albert Award for Excellence in Advocacy to Randy D. Evers for his excellent representation of indigent defendants in the municipal courts of Oklahoma City.
“As a public defender, Mr. Evers has changed the landscape for indigent defendants,” Hoch said. “He has compelled the City to recognize their rights guaranteed by the Constitution and has enabled many of his clients to leave the jail as free men and women.
“The personal sacrifices made by Mr. Evers ensure that those who are least able to afford it, receive an extraordinary defense and have the same representation as do all other defendants appearing in that court,” he added.
“Mr. Evers continues to provide exemplary legal representation proving his dedication to maintaining the highest principles of those who are called to protect the citizen accused.
“It was with grateful appreciation for his almost thirty years of service that his accomplishments have been recognized by his peers,” Hoch said.
Barry Albert, whose name is on the advocacy award, was a county prosecutor who later became a public defender. He has been compared to Perry Mason, the fictional master criminal defense attorney of early television fame.
After Albert’s death in 2009, Bob Ravitz, head of the Public Defenders Office stated in an article in The Oklahoman, “He was probably the finest trial lawyer I knew, throughout his career, whether representing the citizen charged with a serious crime or protecting the rights of a rape victim or a child victim.”
Albert’s wife, Cherie was recognized during the event and their son, Johnnie, a former OK County Pubic Defender, now in private practice, addressed the group. Johnnie and his brother Vic both are following in their father’s footsteps practicing law.
Previous Barry Albert award winners include Doug Parr, Perry Hudson, David McKenzie, John (Johnnie) Barry Albert and John Coyle.
OCCDLA was founded in 2000 by a group of criminal defense attorneys “seeking justice for all.”
“Like Robin Bruno said at the party, the original intent of OCCDLA was to form an organization that could protect or help other criminal defense lawyers who were being bullied by District Court Judges – basically a sounding board for advice,” Billy stated.
“Those Judges, thankfully have gone and right now I believe Oklahoma County has a solid group of criminal docket jurists.”
Serving as OCCDLA president for the last two years, Billy has been reelected for a third term for 2016.
“Our annual Christmas Party is our main ceremony of the year. We open the party up to all Courthouse staff, Judges and Prosecutors too. There is always a great mix of people,” Billy said. “We are all in this business together and all love and respect the responsibility that comes with our profession.
“OCCDLA is strong at currently over 100 members, with monthly CLE’s (Continuing Legal Education) luncheon seminars ranging from trial strategies to sentencing options, to life stories from the older members.
In 2014 the OCCDLA hosted a Judicial Candidate Forum at the Norick Downtown Library. The event was held to educate the pubic about each candidate running for the office of District 7 (Oklahoma County).
“We are a strong group that loves representing people at their darkest hour and this group gives us all someone to call,” Billy added.
For more information about the Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, contact Billy or Jean at 405-232-1988 or [email protected].