By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
This year marks the 40th year of criminal defense lawyering for prominent Oklahoma City attorney John W. Coyle III. The Coyle Law Firm, at 125 Park Ave., is where the motto “Warriors for Justice” has proven to be a safe haven for many who have been wrongly accused.
Recently, Coyle received the prestigious Lord Thomas Erskine Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. The presentation took place during the OCDLA’s annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Tulsa.
Erskine was a Scottish lawyer and a fierce defender of constitutional rights. The award is given to those who “have relentlessly placed the preservation of personal liberties over his or her own personal gain or reputation.”
Attorney David McKenzie said,” John Coyle is driven by his passion for the law, his great humanity and his desire to help. Greed plays absolutely no role in John’s practice. He has offered nothing but his quality representation for his entire remarkable career.”
Billy Coyle, also an attorney who works with his father at Coyle Law said, “J.W. Coyle has been defending the citizen accused for 40 years. His work ethic and steadfast dedication to his clients made honoring him with the Lord Erskine award easy. We as a family are very proud.”
Last winter, John’s career was unexpectedly and suddenly put on hold.
“In December my father had open heart surgery,” Billy said. “He returned to work three weeks later. They said he couldn’t try a case in June, so in July he tried a federal court bribery case in Muskogee and got a ‘Not Guilty.’ ”
Victor Garrett, the former owner of Arbuckle Wilderness, says that the Coyle family merged with his during his trial.
“Truly Coyle Law Firm is a team,” Garrett said. “Thank you all for working with us on our case. Most of all thank you for the way you treated us – like we were innocent until proven so.”
“He was on his game and never missed a step or opportunity for the advantage,” Garrett added. “Mr. Coyle was as passionate about our case as we were. My wife and my kids sat thru 3 1/2 days of trial believing that the truth would come out.”
Although John has had his share of headline cases, what earns him recognition within the profession is his willingness to work for the “everyman” who is in peril.
Billy said, “It is not the easy cases that he likes, it’s the hard cases that nobody wants that he will work tirelessly on.”
Charges were filed against Stacy and Dale Hall after cannabis plants were found growing on the family’s farm in 2009. Coyle delved headfirst into the case and it was later dismissed.
Dale said, “You’d think an attorney of his stature wouldn’t even want to spend his time with somebody like us – just a blue collar worker. He became our friend. Whoever hires John will get 110 percent out of him.”
Upon hearing about the award, Stacy Hall posted on the Coyle Law Firm facebook page, “Dale and I are certainly overjoyed that you received an award because we love you. You were an awesome lawyer for us and will always be a part of our family.”
John said he’s tried well over a hundred jury cases, but “the ones that I’ve not done well at, those are the ones that I think of every morning.”
Last summer John defended a client charged with manslaughter and argued the motion to dismiss. He prevailed.
The client’s father said, “Three years is a long time, but the outcome was unbelievable. It was John’s diligence. You could see that he cared about my son and that he would do the best job he could.
“Possibly if we had not gotten hooked up with John, my son would probably be sitting in prison. He is somebody that we will always remember and respect him in our hearts. John is a special person to us. We just love him to pieces.
“He wants to give people another chance with their lives and that’s what he’s done with my son,” the father added. “If a person doesn’t have a competent attorney you’re in trouble. I look at things so much differently now. We were lucky.”
Fellow attorney and a previous Lord Erskine award winner, Mack K. Martin said, “I have watched with amazement John Coyle’s defense of unpopular causes and his zealous protection of the constitutional rights of all his clients.
“He has and continues to champion every client’s cause and is without question deserving of this year’s Lord Thomas Erskine Award.”
Born in Oklahoma, John is a dedicated family man. He and Julee, his wife of 27 years have four children, Billy, Bobby, Park and Ruby. The spark in his life are his three grandchildren, Jack, Lilly and Lilah.
John said, “The truth is what sets us free, just talk to a jury about the truth. We’re just trying to help people in trouble. That’s an ongoing, everyday process. That’s my favorite thing to do.”