Local criminal attorney avoids the limelight

His clients are primarily people of color

Ira W. Whitlock (Photo courtesy of Whitlock Law Office, LLC's)

 

Terrorists no longer hang Black folk. The practice, American as apple pie, still isn’t specifically prohibited by law. It simply became bad form in the face of international scrutiny. Nonetheless, determined to uphold a supremacist creed of ruthless oppression, the country resorted to legal lynching.

While we’re no longer abducted by mobs, police abduct men and women via arrests and courts take their freedom. Long after sentences are served, a stigma is left, obstructing housing and employment. And though they haven’t been strangled by a rope, aspirations of leading productive lives beyond menial jobs by pursuing actual careers are by and large no less dead, subjugation sustained.

Noted attorney Ira W. Whitlock of Whitlock Law Office, LLC’s expertise is criminal law, defending those who — guilty and innocent alike — find themselves on the wrong end of a system whose due process is levied against them like cards dealt from a stacked deck. He wears a sharp suit instead of a red cape, but the result is no less heroic for those rescued from languishing behind bars.

Whitlock specializes in criminal defense, state and federal, practicing law for more than 20 years. This includes but isn’t limited to appeals, post-conviction relief, forfeiture and expunging records, a boon to those needing to leave their past as far behind them as possible.

He has successfully defended clients accused of murder, sexual assault, aggravated robbery, burglary, riot and assault, recently taking on and winning the fairly high-profile case of a local  photographer who saw his reputation blemished and livelihood impaired by a charge of rape.

Whitlock draws on Fourth Amendment expertise to try cases involving police brutality, obtaining dismissals with challenges that law enforcement authorities — racially profiling or not — violated rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Whitlock (IW) describes himself as “a zealous advocate who consistently provides the community honest, forthright representation.”

Named to 2016’s Top 100 Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers, selected top St. Paul Lawyer 2017 by the Global Directory of Who’s Who Top Lawyers, and a member of Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, he received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota, Morris and  his Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree at William Mitchell College of Law. His published articles include “The African American Male is an Endangered Species” (Justice Journal) and “White Black Color and Race” (University of North Dakota).

 

MSR: Do you get Johnnie Cochrane jokes, remarks or comparisons?

IW: The comments go as far back as the beginning of my career. The first comment came from a client after I won his trial in a traffic matter. [He] knew I had won my first four trials as a student attorney at the Neighborhood Justice Center and said, “You’re gonna be the next Johnnie Cochrane.” I was flattered but knew he was happy about the outcome of his case.

Some later comparisons have come because I am an aggressive cross-examiner and known for giving passionate closing arguments. One of the things I borrowed from Johnnie is giving each [case] a title or theme. The basis of this practice came from the famous line, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

People have a short attention span. Thus, giving jurors titles or themes gives them memorable concepts they can take into the deliberation process, evaluating evidence. I must note that although I have been blessed to have won murder cases, I have a long way to go before I can take any Johnnie comparisons seriously.

MSR: Richard Pryor quipped that if you come down to the jailhouse looking for justice, that’s what you’ll find — just us.

IW: Richard Pryor was a great peopleologist. He always kept it real. The criminal justice system has a [disparate] impact on the African American community. I receive daily calls from African American men and women who have been adversely affected by the criminal justice system. I try to give them as much free advice as I can to help them make an educated decision about hiring an attorney.

I offer free initial consultations in order for the potential client to vet me and my office. I offer flexible payment plans for potential clients in order to avoid having to turn away poor people who need good representation.

I make it a practice to try not to turn away business from an innocent person. However, the client must make an effort to retain my office, as I cannot do every case pro bono. I often tell these clients I cannot promise an outcome, but I can commit to an aggressive and effective defense.

MSR: How satisfying is it to unequivocally acquit someone who’s been found guilty in the court of public speculation and gossip?

IW: It was an absolute pleasure to assist with getting the acquittal he deserved, since he was absolutely innocent. This case is the kind of case I live for. I love the challenge of starting a case when the State believes they have a slam dunk and my staff and I turn the table in favor of the innocent client. It is always great to put the time, energy and dedication into a case and hear the words “not guilty.” It is a big deal when people trust you with their lives and you deliver.

MSR: I’m disappointed I never got to profile you in Minnesota Law & Politics, particularly since all they assigned me was Black people to write about. Any idea why someone as strong as you didn’t cross their radar?

IW: I am not sure. I assume it is because I have a small firm and solo practice representing primarily minority clients. My clients are not the most desirable, and there are many attorneys in the community doing good work.

In addition, I have not applied for status-seeking accolades such as super lawyer despite my years of experience, and I do not seek the limelight or public recognition in association with my cases. Please note, my clients are often embarrassed about the allegations against them and do not want any publicity.

For instance, in a murder case I won in St. Paul in 2011, the news media wrote regular articles about the case involving the death of my client’s child while it was pending, and were in court on each day of the trial. After my client was acquitted of all counts, as far as I know, not one article was written about my client, her innocence, my office, or the case.

I can certainly campaign for news media coverage, but I find it somewhat disingenuous. On the other hand, I do not shy away from the public and have been on local Channel 9 [Fox] news twice concerning two cases. News agencies are highly interested in covering charges against criminal defendants but very reluctant to cover the acquittals of those same clients because it is more popular to demonize [and] criminalize defendants and poor, disadvantaged communities.

 

For more information, visit www.whitlocklawoffice.com.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.

About Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

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