By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – As the name implies, the mission of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) is the abolition of capital punishment. In order to achieve this goal, one strategic objective is to reduce the number of new death sentences in Oklahoma.
According to coalition board member Jim Rowan, one way to influence outcomes in death penalty cases is to maximize the quality of legal representation through continuing education.
Therefore, in 2013 OK-CADP established the Bob Lemon Capitol Defense Attorney Scholarship Fund. This program provides financial aid for local capital defense attorneys to attend national training events to further their professional development in the areas of trials, mitigation, appeals, and victim outreach.
“The Bob Lemon scholarship fund was created to assist capital trial attorneys learn the special skills needed to defend people facing the death penalty,” said Rowan, an Oklahoma County Public Defender. “Public defenders have had their budgets slashed and no longer are able to send lawyers to the training they need. The scholarship fund helps defray the travel expenses to attend vital training.”
During the recent OK-CADP Annual Meeting & Dinner, held on April 21, Oklahoma Federal Public Defender Randy Bauman, recipient of the 2018 Opio Toure Courageous Advocate Award, spoke about this important coalition program.
“The coalition has provided the help to make a difference in capitol defense by establishing the Bob Lemon Capital Defense Attorneys Scholarship Fund,” said Bauman, supervisor of the Capital Habeus Unit.
The program was started when Bauman called upon the late Lydia Polley (1931 – 2017) OK-CADP chair at that time, and Rowan to discuss the great need for capitol case training for defenders.
“The coalition said yes,” Bauman added. “It has carried on and as a matter of fact they are helping to send a lawyer and an investigator to training in May and July.”
Because of the scholarship program, Assistant Public Defender Lydia Fields, from the Oklahoma County Public Defenders Office, will be going to the famed Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer College in Wyoming and Meghan McGhee, a Tulsa County Public Defender, will be attending the Capital Mitigation Workshop II, a hands-on practical skills course in mitigation held in Kansas City.
“These lawyers love to get trained,” Bauman said. “Thank you, OK-CADP for making a difference.”
Other local capital defense attorneys to receive funding this year were Cathy Hammarsten, Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office – Capital Trial Team; Melanie Freeman-Johnson, Oklahoma County Assistant Public Defender – Capital Unit; Nicole Burns, and Thomas Hurley, both Oklahoma County Public Defenders.
To date, 23 capital defense attorneys have benefited from the Bob Lemon Scholarship Fund.
The Bob Lemon Scholarship Selection Committee reviews all applications and makes granting decisions. The committee is comprised of representatives from the Federal Capital Habeas Unit, the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, defense attorneys at-large, and OK-CADP.
Attorneys and investigators from the following organizations are eligible to apply:
• Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS)
• Oklahoma County Public Defender Office
• Tulsa County Public Defender Office
• Capital Conflict list of above assigned to death penalty case(s)
Oklahoma City philanthropists and anti-death penalty advocates, the late Robert D. Lemon (1929 – 2016) and his daughter Robyn Lemon Sellers made the initial donation to establish the scholarship program. Additional donations will allow more scholarships to be awarded.
For more information regarding how to apply for or donate to the Bob Lemon Capital Defense Scholarship Fund, visit okcadp.org/legal-education or call 405-532-5443.
Checks to support the Scholarship Fund can be sent to: OK-CADP, P.O. Box 713, Oklahoma City, OK 73101-0713. Indicate “Bob Lemon Fund” in the memo line.