Larry Hammond, an attorney with Osborn Maledon, P.A., who has been described as one of the foremost criminal defense lawyers of his or any other generation, recently received the Justice for All Award from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. The award honors a member of the community who has demonstrated a passion for pro bono service and a commitment to the community.
Hammond has more than 30 years in private practice, but said his two tours with the U.S. Department of Justice are among his most satisfying professional experiences. He served as an Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor in 1973-74, and then returned to the Justice Department during the Carter Administration. There, he worked in the Office of Legal Counsel as the First Deputy Assistant Attorney General under both Attorneys General Griffin Bell and Ben Civiletti. He also is the founder and chair of the board of directors for the Arizona Justice Project, Arizona’s version of the national Innocence Project.
“Larry is that rarest combination of crackling good lawyer and dedicated public servant,” said Dean Douglas Sylvester. “It is difficult to imagine anyone who has given more of his time, heart and soul to the causes he supports.
“Larry is, in short, an inspiration to us all. I hope all will follow, in some small way, Larry’s lead in giving back to the community.”
Hammond received the award at the Pro Bono Awards Ceremony held in May at the College of Law. The ceremony also honored graduating students for their pro bono service.
“Larry has personally corrected far more than his share of injustices,” said Robert Bartels, the College of Law’s Charles M. Brewer Professor of Trial Advocacy, who has worked on many of the Justice Project cases with Hammond. “But his even more important achievement has been to inspire others by his intelligence, passion, and stubborn optimism that the justice system can get not just better, but much better.”
Professor Zig Popko, director of the College of Law’s Post-Conviction Clinic, also has worked on many of the cases.
“Larry has a very deep passion for justice, and by following that passion, he has helped any number of people who would otherwise have had no voice and would be forgotten,” Popko said.
Hammond was raised in El Paso, Texas, the son of a wholesale druggist, a strongly religious Episcopalian who took Hammond with him on the road through small towns in west Texas and New Mexico to visit independent drugstores.
Hammond, like others across the country, was fascinated with Russia, having witnessed the launch of the Sputnik in 1957 and the failed 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy initiated in an effort to overthrow Cuban President Fidel Castro because of his feared ties to Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union.
Hammond took Russian in high school, and majored in it at the University of New Mexico. He was fascinated to discover that his pronounced stuttering was totally absent when he spoke in Russian.
When he ran out of Russian classes in New Mexico, Hammond transferred to the University of Texas, where he finished his undergraduate work and went on to law school.
“I thought I should confront the stuttering, and that law school was a pretty good place to do that,” Hammond said.
But he didn’t know any lawyers, and needed a letter of recommendation for law school.
“My father arranged for me to go meet a judge,” Hammond said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. I watched some amazing people, and I admired what they were doing, but when I got out of law school, I had no plan, no idea about what to do.”
Two of Hammond’s law school professors recommended him for a clerkship with Judge Carl McGowan, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and McGowan offered Hammond a clerkship sight unseen. After McGowan, Hammond clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Hugo L. Black and Lewis F. Powell Jr.
“They were all very, very careful and thoughtful listeners who believed that justice ought to be done,” Hammond said. “It wasn’t that they had decided to champion some particular cause. They were trying to do what good judges ought to do: understand the law, carefully study the facts and make the correct judgments.”
Hammond said he stuttered throughout law school, but found his voice in Arizona in 1974, when he was asked to participate in a lawsuit to integrate the Tucson Unified School District. The NAACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights asked Hammond to represent as co-counsel the black children in elementary and middle school.
“I got up to cross-examine the first expert witness, and when I spoke into the microphone in the courtroom, I didn’t stutter,” Hammond said. “The sound of my own voice was overwhelming. This thing is all about the brain.”
Hammond’s sense of justice was honed while working as an Assistant Watergate Special Prosecutor on the case that eventually forced President Richard Nixon from office.
“I was the bottom-dwelling slug in that office, the youngest attorney with no prosecutorial or government experience,” Hammond said. “I was doing the kinds of things that the bottom-dweller was asked to do. But I loved being there.
“I was the first lawyer to get to the office the night of the Saturday Night Massacre. I lived just across the Potomac River. I drove down to the offices and was there when the FBI got there.”
The Saturday Night Massacre, on Oct. 20, 1973, was the night that Nixon, angry over a subpoena for tapes of Oval Office conversations, told Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused, and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, given the same request, also refused and resigned.
Nixon eventually brought in Solicitor General Robert Bork, swore him in as Acting Attorney General, and Bork fired Cox. The actions were deemed illegal by federal court, Congress was infuriated, and the public flooded the White House and Congress with telegrams protesting the actions. A new special prosecutor was hired and Nixon, facing impeachment and conviction, resigned on Aug. 9, 1974.
“The most important thing I learned from that experience was that the prosecutors really are the ministers of justice,” Hammond said. “In many ways, the prosecutors are more important than the judges.
“Throughout my life, I’ve been disappointed by prosecutors, but not in that office. Cox was one of the best. And the other prosecutors took seriously the responsibility they had to get convictions, to make sure justice was done. Every day, I watched prosecutors making tough decisions that were not good for them personally.
“I really don’t understand why every prosecutor doesn’t instinctively say that the most important thing is to do justice, instead of saying the most important thing is winning.”
Hammond said that he had another epiphany about justice with the introduction of DNA in trial evidence.
“DNA changed the face of everything,” Hammond said. “What DNA demonstrated was that a lot of people were convicted, some sentenced to death, who were clearly innocent of the crimes.”
And advances in science also brought other forensic “evidence” into question, including ballistics, fingerprints, teeth marks, eyewitness identification, and testimony on the defendant’s mental state.
The questions, and the certainty that many people were unjustly imprisoned, led Hammond to spend much of his career fighting to right those injustices, including establishing the Arizona Justice Project. There, students from all of Arizona’s law schools work on cases.
Hammond said the center focuses not only on actual innocence, but also on manifest injustice.
“There were a series of battered women who shot dead their abusing husbands, and it was an injustice to put in prison for life a woman who had been a victim of abuse and responded out of that abuse,” Hammond said.
The project has been involved in the release of at least 15 people, Hammond said.
“You look at the kaleidoscope of activity around each of those cases, the lawyers, the students,” he said. “For the rest of their lives, they will say this was the most meaningful thing they did."
Hammond also has devoted much of his personal time to the cases, including the ones of John Henry Knapp, Louis Taylor and Bill Macumber.
Knapp was sentenced to death for allegedly setting a fire that killed his two daughters, aged 2 and 3. He initially cracked during questioning and confessed, but immediately recanted and ever after maintained his innocence. His first trial ended with a hung jury, his second with a conviction. He was released 13 years later after a hung jury in a retrial with new evidence. Knapp agreed to a plea deal in which he didn’t admit guilt in exchange for a time-served sentence. His story is told in a book, Triple Jeopardy.
“He was convicted of torching his own children, convicted, sentenced to death, accused of pouring a gallon of fuel on his babies and incinerating them,” Hammond said. “He was on death row for 13 years. Now he’s a free man.
“This case totally convinced me that lawyers need to spend at least some time at every stage of their career working on behalf of something for which they don’t get paid, whatever that passion is.”
Taylor was 16 when he was accused of setting a fire that killed 28 people at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson in 1970. He always insisted on his innocence, saying he was helping people at the hotel escape the fire, which other witnesses corroborated. Today, more than 40 years later, Taylor also is free.
“When Taylor was freed, there were four generations of students who had worked on the case,” Hammond said.
Perhaps the most famous case is that of Bill Macumber, given two life sentences for the murders of a young couple whose bodies were found in the Arizona desert in 1962. Macumber, convicted 12 years later, always maintained his innocence, saying his ex-wife framed him. After nearly 40 years behind bars, Macumber was freed in November, and Hammond took him to his first baseball game in 38 years.
“Five generations of students worked on his case,” Hammond said. “Many came back to watch him freed, saying it was the best thing they’ve ever done.”
Hammond, speaking to the students gathered at the recent awards ceremony, urged them to continue to devote time to pro bono efforts.
“Judge McGowan, who was a great admirer of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, told me that Brandeis devoted an average of an hour a day to pro bono work,” Hammond said. “I thought he must be mistaken, so I looked it up, and it was true.
“I’ve lived that way, and I think every lawyer could work an average of one hour a day on pro bono work and never feel it. Not every single day, but over time, there isn’t a lawyer alive who can’t do that."
Hammond also has received the Morris Dees Justice Award, the American Bar Association’s John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award, the Justice Award from The American Judicature Society, the Judge Learned Hand Award for Community Service from the Arizona Chapter of American Jewish Committee, Civil Libertarian of the Year from the Arizona Civil Liberties Union (twice), and the Pro Bono Service Award from the State Bar of Arizona, among many others.