By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (OCCDLA) recently held its annual Christmas Party in downtown Oklahoma City to celebrate the holiday and to honor several of its members.
The Coyle Law Firm, led by OCCDLA past president, John W. Coyle, and his son Billy Coyle, OCCDLA president, hosted the event.
About 150 people attended the celebration that included an open bar and a buffet by Bedlam Bar-B-Q.
Each year the group recognizes several of its members for their outstanding service.
The 2016 President’s Award was given posthumously to The Honorable Judge Donald L. Deason, who died unexpectedly last July. Judge Deason’s wife, Chris, also an attorney, accepted the award during an emotional presentation made by Billy Coyle.
“Don Deason was a friend to all at the courthouse,” Billy said. “He was very fair to both the prosecution and defense and will truly be missed.”
A former prosecutor, Deason became a special judge in Oklahoma County in 1999 and a district judge in 2005. Known for his integrity and compassion, he was a fierce victims’ rights advocate. Deason was considered “a mentor whose wisdom and experience have enriched the lives of many.”
The prestigious Barry Albert Award for Excellence in Advocacy went to attorney Joi E. Miskel. Barry’s son, Johnnie Albert presented the award saying, “If anyone deserves the Barry Albert Award it’s her.”
“When I started practicing, I remember coming to the first OCCDLA party and being surrounded by these amazing lawyers, and watching you guys in trial – all being warriors,” Miskel said. “It means so much to me to be recognized by my peers, my colleagues and more importantly by my friends. I thank every single one of you.”
The Barry Albert Award is named to honor an attorney whose legal career spanned more than 40 years. Barry began as a county prosecutor who later became a public defender likened to Perry Mason. After Albert’s death in 2009, Bob Ravitz, head of the Oklahoma County Public Defenders Office stated, “He was probably the finest trial lawyer I knew.”
Barry’s wife, Cherie was recognized that evening and presented with a bouquet of roses. Their sons, Johnnie and Vic Albert, both practice law, following in their father’s footsteps.
“We do this every year and there’s a lot of young people here that never knew my dad,” Johnnie said. “There’s a quote that my dad lived by, it’s called ‘The Man in the Arena.’” The quote comes from the “Citizenship in a Republic” speech given in 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt, in which he railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place.
Attorney Scott Adams was also honored with the Barry Albert Award for Excellence in Advocacy as well as the 2016 Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Another person put himself in the arena this year – took on 123 citizens, the entire police department, devoted 2 months of his practice, gave everything that he had, and left it all on the battlefield, which is exactly what this award is about,” Johnnie said referring to Scott Adams’ representation of Daniel Holtzclaw.
“He took on a trial that most of us couldn’t handle and I’m very proud of him,” Johnnie added.
“Johnnie gave me ‘The Man in the Arena’ the day after the Holtzclaw trial was over,” Adams said. “It was the toughest trial I’ve ever dealt with. All of us who had the privilege to know Barry know how special this award is.”
Adams added, “I’ll never forget his love for the law, his love for the courtroom and for the Albert family. This is a huge honor.”
Adams thanked the Albert family for the award, along with his staff, and his wife Trish.
Previous Barry Albert award winners include Randy D. Evers, Doug Parr, Perry Hudson, David McKenzie, John (Johnnie) Barry Albert and John Coyle.
The Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award honors a career “dedicated to preserving the rights and defending the liberty of the accused.” Billy and Johnnie presented the award named for former president of OCCDLA, Robert Manchester, who died in November 2012.
Manchester also served as the Chief Municipal Judge for the City of The Village. He led numerous pro bono actions on behalf of those deserving a “fair break,” particularly veterans. Among his many accolades, Robert received the esteemed Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association’s Lord Thomas Erskine Award.
Because of his passion for hot air ballooning, which is depicted on the award, Manchester became known as the “Ballooning Barrister.”
Previous recipients of The Robert Manchester award include Charlie F. Cox, Chris Eulberg, David Autry and Frank Courbois.
A group of criminal defense attorneys “seeking justice for all” founded OCCDLA in 2000.
“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 said. “Those Judges, thankfully have gone and right now I believe Oklahoma County has a solid group of criminal docket jurists.
“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. We are all in this business together and all love and respect the responsibility that comes with our profession,” Billy continued.
“OCCDLA is strong currently with 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.”
OCCDLA hosted the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Debate between Sheriff John Whetsel, who won the election, and challenger Mike Christian, a former Republican House Representative.
“We are a solid group that loves representing people at their darkest hour and this group gives us all someone to call,” Billy said.
For more information about the OCCDLA, contact Billy Coyle at 405-232-1988 or [email protected].