By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (OCCDLA) held its 9th annual Christmas Party last month to celebrate the holiday season and to honor several of its members.
Festivities were held at the Coyle Law Firm, in downtown Oklahoma City, hosted by OCCDLA past president, John Coyle and Billy Coyle, the group’s president. The holiday event featured an open bar and a buffet catered by Bedlam Bar-B-Q.
This year the prestigious Barry & Johnny Albert Award (formerly the Barry Albert Award) and the Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award were given to three OCCDLA members for their outstanding service.
Ben Munda, with the Oklahoma County Public Defender Office, General Felonies Division, was honored with the 2019 Barry & Johnny Albert Award.
“Ben left a job at McAfee and Taft as a patton lawyer to join the public defender’s office,” said attorney Clay Curtis. “He didn’t do it for the glory – he did it because he loves it. Ben’s year has really shown his skill in the court room. He has three ‘not guilty’ verdicts, two for murder in the first degree, another for robbery. He has been in trial nearly every term this calendar year in true public defender form.
“I believe Ben’s commitment to his clients and our profession is emblematic of those displayed by the Alberts,” Curtis added. “It is my honor to nominate my friend, Ben Munda, for the Barry & Johnny Albert award – in recognition of his year as a warrior for justice.”
The Barry & Johnny Albert Award is named for the late Barry Albert (April 1936 – October 2000) 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 year. Both of Barry’s sons, Johnny and Victor, became lawyers, following in their father’s footsteps.
This year there were two recipients of the 2019 Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award: Robin McPhail Bruno, with the Oklahoma County Public Defender Office General Felony Division, and Gina K. Walker, formerly with the Oklahoma County Public Defender Appeals Division.
“Robin has been an attorney in in the Oklahoma County Public Defender office for 19 years and has exemplified what this award is about for that entire time,” said Al Hoch, OCCDLA Past President and Board of Directors member.
“Mrs. Bruno has represented clients in almost every type of case imaginable ranging from misdemeanor charges to violent felonies including assaults, drug trafficking, sex crimes and homicides,” Hoch said. “She is well respected and admired for her work by judges, prosecutors and her fellow defense attorneys, and she is one who can be counted on to provide a zealous representation for any defendant.”
The Robert A. Manchester Lifetime Achievement Award honors a career “dedicated to preserving the rights and defending the liberty of the accused.”
“Gina Walker began practicing law in 1993 and started her career as a Public Defender in 1994,” said Jacob Benedict, Criminal Division Supervisor for the OK County Public Defender Office. “She worked tirelessly for Oklahoma County’s accused until her retirement in 2018. Gina was trained by none other than Tim ‘Tarzan’ Wilson, and is a member of Team Tarzan. In 2002, she began working in the Capital Trial Division, defending dozens of individuals whose lives were at risk facing the death penalty.
Having joined the Appellate Division in 2015 where she continued her life’s work, Gina estimates that she’s litigated over 100 jury trials during her career.
“Gina’s twenty-four years as a public defender reflect not just who she is as an attorney, but who she is as a person: fierce, passionate, and above all else, fearless,” Benedict added.
The Lifetime Achievement award is named for former OCCDLA president, Robert Manchester III (April 10, 1941 – November 16, 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. Among his many accolades, Manchester received the esteemed Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association’s Lord Thomas Erskine Award.
An avid hot air balloon hobbyist, Manchester became known as the “Ballooning Barrister,” as depicted on the award that bears his name.
According to Billy, OCCDLA was founded in 2000 by a group of criminal defense attorneys “seeking justice for all.”
OCCDLA Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Luncheon Seminars are held on the first Thursday of each month at 11:30 a.m. at the downtown Ron Norick Library 4th Floor auditorium. Topics range from trial strategies to sentencing options, to life stories from older members. Attendance is free for members and $10 for non-members.
“Our annual Christmas Party is our main ceremony of the year” Billy said. “We open the party up to all Courthouse staff, Judges and Prosecutors. We are a solid group that loves representing people at their darkest hour and this group gives us all someone to call.”