By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On December 6, the Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (OCCDLA) held its 8th annual Christmas Party during which they honored several members of the legal community.
Festivities took place at Coyle Law Firm in downtown Oklahoma City. The event was hosted by OCCDLA past president, John Coyle, and his son Billy Coyle, the group’s current president.
According to Billy, OCCDLA was founded in 2000 by a group of criminal defense attorneys seeking justice for all.
Each year the group presents its President’s Award, the prestigious Barry & Johnny Albert Award (formerly the Barry Albert Award), and the Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award to deserving members of the Oklahoma legal community.
The President’s award, given to those who have ‘gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to the work of OCCDLA,’ honored two outgoing judges: Bill Graves, an Oklahoma State Representative for 24 years and Oklahoma County District Judge for twelve years; and Michelle McElwee, who served Oklahoma County as a former public defender, assistant district attorney, and District Judge for two years.
“Both Judge Graves and Judge McElwee have done a very good job on the bench and the community is very respectful and appreciative of their service,” Billy said.
The Barry & Johnny Albert Award (formerly the Barry Albert Award) is named after attorney Barry Albert, whose legal career spanned over 40 years as both a county prosecutor and public defender, and his son Johnny Albert ( Sept. 15, 1967 – March 8, 2018), a defense attorney and longtime member of OCCDLA, who passed away suddenly last March.
“The board met and decided to rename the award the ‘Barry and Johnny Albert Award’ as it is a fitting tribute to these two men who lived their lives dedicated to defending people at their darkest hour,” Billy said. “Johnny passed away unexpectedly this year, bringing the criminal legal community to a halt. Johnny was a giant to us and now he is with his father Barry.”
Both of Barry’s sons, Johnny and Victor, followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming lawyers. Johnny gave gifts of life to several other persons through organ donation with LifeShare of Oklahoma.
Vic thanked OCCDLA for the honor and said, “Although it has been a difficult year, the family is carrying on as Barry and Johnny would have wanted.”
The 2018 Barry & Johnny Albert Award was given to Oklahoma Public Defender Thomas F. Hurley. With 20 years of experience, Tom has served as a prosecutor and as a United States Army Judge Advocate. He formerly led the civilian criminal defense practice section of the court-martial defense Law Office of Will M. Helixon in Oklahoma City.
“I am absolutely overjoyed and honored to receive this award,” Hurley said. “Any recognition from your peers is quite special, but to have it be associated with the legends this award is named for and those who have previously won it is significant. I can’t thank OCCDLA, the Coyle Law Firm, those who voted, and Robin Bruno enough for the honor.”
Billy stated, “Thomas Hurley is very deserving of this year’s award. Both Barry and Johnny were longtime public defenders and both believed that every case should be represented to the fullest. Oklahoma County has one of the nation’s finest public defenders office and Thomas Hurley certainly represents that.”
The Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors a career “dedicated to preserving the rights and defending the liberty of the accused,” was bestowed to attorney Paul S. Faulk.
“Paul Faulk and Robert Manchester are two in the same,” Billy said. “Robert A. Manchester never backed down and was always fighting for his clients. This is the same style of representation that Paul has given his clients for over thirty years.”
The award is named for former president of OCCDLA, Robert Manchester, who died in November 2012.
As Chief Municipal Judge for the City of The Village, Manchester led numerous pro bono actions on behalf of those deserving a fair break, particularly veterans. Known as the “Ballooning Barrister,” as depicted on the award that bears his name, Manchester received the esteemed Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association’s Lord Thomas Erskine Award.
That evening, approximately 150 people, including lawyers, judges, courthouse staff, friends and family members enjoyed an open bar and a buffet provided by Bedlam Bar-B-Q.
“2018 was unfortunately a year that also saw the death of multiple criminal legal greats,” Billy said. “Robert Johnston – a courthouse favorite that everyone enjoyed seeing on a daily basis; Larry Tedder – a former prosecutor, was zealous in his representation of the accused and fierce in the court room; David Lynn – a courthouse favorite that received a not guilty verdict in his late 70s; and Bob Jackson – a friend to many who was extremely well known in the legal community and never backed down. They will all be missed.”
OCCDLA hosts a monthly Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Luncheon Seminar on the first Thursday of each month at 11:30 a.m. in the Ron Norick Downtown Library’s 4th floor auditorium.
Topics range from trial strategies to sentencing options, as well as life stories from the older members. Attendance is free for members and $10 for non-members.
“Our annual Christmas Party is our main ceremony of the year and there is always a great mix of people,” Billy said. “We are all in this business together and we all love and respect the responsibility that comes with our profession.”