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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Public Defender Gains National Honors

This article appeared on Delaware Online on October 17, 2006:

Public Defender Gains National Honors

The News Journal

Posted Tuesday October 17, 2006

Larry Sullivan has been Delaware public defender since 1970.

When he joined the Delaware Public Defender's Office in 1973, having just passed the state bar exam, Joseph Farnan was more accustomed to writing briefs for other attorneys, doing research and other behind-the-scenes work.

Delaware Public Defender Larry Sullivan saw something in the young man, a former Wilmington College instructor and fellow King's College alum, and assigned him as the second attorney in a serious murder case -- a move that helped forge Farnan's distinguished legal career.

Sullivan is "the most decent human being I've ever met," said Farnan, now a U.S. district judge. "He cares about the underprivileged in the legal system, and provides them with the same defense that a wealthy person would get."

For 36 years, it's been Sullivan's responsibility to defend people who cannot afford an attorney when they've been charged with a crime.

Even though he is the state's second public defender, appointed in 1970 to replace James Kelleher, most public officials still refer to Sullivan, 69, as "the only public defender Delaware's ever had."

And this year, he's also the state's only public defender to win the Dorsey Award, which the American Bar Association awards for "exceptional work" by a public defender.

The award is named after Charles H. Dorsey Jr., the former executive director of Maryland's Legal Aid Bureau and a nationally-known champion of the poor and underprivileged. Sullivan shares the award this year with the public defender from San Francisco.

"Larry's recognition by the American Bar Association says it all about his service," said Lt. Gov. John Carney. "He has served and been appointed by five different governors, of both parties, which says a lot about Larry and the fact he has been able to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle."

Along with the Dorsey Award, Sullivan was recognized this month with a Reginald Heber Smith Award, or "Reggie," by the 2006 National Legal Aid and Defender Association. The Reggie notes the outstanding achievement of a civil legal aid attorney or an indigent defense attorney.

Sullivan, a lifelong Republican who is active in party politics, is a fearsome opponent, friends say, and a dedicated public servant.

Both sides of Sullivan's family emigrated from Ireland, his father's family from Kerry County.
"They never found a fight they didn't enjoy," Sullivan said. "There's a little bit of that in me."
A lifelong Delawarean, Sullivan was born in Wilmington. He excelled as Salesianum School's quarterback.

"He always called his own plays, even when the coach sent one in," said former Sallies halfback Paul Hession, who like other running backs on the team wishes Sullivan would have called more running plays.

"He was a very good, multi-dimensional kind of guy, who was good at passing, running and leading the team, but also good at punting and defense," Hession said. "He was very competitive, the guy everyone looked up to, and the kind of guy who got the team going."
After high school, Sullivan studied philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre and joined the Republican Party.

"Those were days when there weren't too many cares except trying to get by the next test," said J.B. Robert Schiavi, Sullivan's college roommate. "He is a loyal friend."
During law school at the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C., Sullivan enlisted in the Delaware Army National Guard.

A workaholic, friends and colleagues routinely find e-mails from Sullivan sent late at night or early in the morning.

"When you stop hearing from Larry, either there's a problem or his computer is broken," said longtime friend Tom Gordon, a former New Castle County executive and police chief. Gordon, who lives in Hockessin, has been fighting a federal fraud and racketeering indictment for more than two years. "It's nothing to get an e-mail from him at 2 or 3 in the morning."

Seeking the ability to "do more good," Sullivan ran twice unsuccessfully for attorney general. He became the Republican nominee in 1974.

"That was the Watergate year," he said. "Republicans lost all across the country."
In 1994, he lost a primary battle to M. Jane Brady, who served as attorney general from 1995 to last year, when she was appointed a Superior Court judge by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

"I've know Larry for a very long time, and we've been friendly for years," Brady said. "We've had adverse positions professionally, and differing views on the law. Any time you have visibly adverse roles it can have an impact on a closer relationship, but we continue to work well."

Delaware Attorney General Carl Danberg said Sullivan is a staunch advocate of drug treatment and rehabilitation.

"Larry speaks with authority, particularly when he's talking about issues that are the root cause of criminal behavior," Danberg said.

As vice chairman of the Delaware Criminal Justice Community, a position he's held for more than 30 years, Sullivan has a strong voice in determining where federal dollars will be spent within the state. He has used this role to "float all the boats," ensuring that the entire system is funded, rather than just his own office.

"All of the criminal justice system is interdependent, but not just interdependent for the survival of the agencies, but for the community," Sullivan said. "We ought to be about rehabilitating the community, doing something for our loved ones. We need knowledgeable corrections, knowledgeable social services, knowledgeable judges and understanding police."
Bart Dalton, former chief deputy attorney general, said Sullivan's approach reduces the overall number of criminal cases.

"That means there are less victims," Dalton said. "Although he's an advocate for those charged with crimes, the work he's doing has helped every member of the community, including crime victims."

In 1980, Sullivan formed the nation's first psycho-forensic unit, which conducts evaluations of clients that it makes available to attorneys and courts. The early recognition of problems results in more effective treatment in prison, and offers alternatives to incarceration.

The Videophone Project, which Sullivan pioneered, has been used by the state's criminal justice community for 15 years. Rather than transporting inmates or detainees to court for arraignments, preliminary hearing waivers and other proceedings, the inmate can appear electronically. In 2004, the system handled around 4,000 calls each month, and saved the state nearly $3 million. When established, it was the first time any jurisdiction in the country had used video phones for court hearings.

Sullivan's major push has always been treatment for inmates, rather than warehousing.
Angelo Falasca, who retired after 23 years as chief deputy public defender, said Sullivan has always tried to convince the criminal justice community of the need for treatment, even though his efforts weren't always well received.

"He's said you have to treat these guys because they're gonna get out, and these guys are gonna be in the same situation as when they went in," Falasca said. "It's an amazing thing to see all these guys who you would assume would be in favor of treatment who weren't, guys in the AG's office, police and corrections."

Associate Supreme Court Justice Henry Ridgely, former president judge of the Superior Court and member of the Criminal Justice Council, said Sullivan is committed to seeking equal justice.
"Larry brings to the table not only his long experience with how issues have been addressed in Delaware, but a keen ability to problem-solve with solutions that are fair to all sides," Ridgely said.

Jim Kane is executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Carney.

"Larry's built these incredible alliances by recognizing that inmates need treatment, and by being the renaissance man of the council, he's helped his office and other agencies," Kane said. "Because he's helped other agencies, people listen to him. I'm very biased, because I think he's one of the most remarkable people I've ever met, but his desire to improve the criminal justice system is mind-boggling."

Carney was asked to chair the council as a "balance to mediate between Larry and the others he's done battle with."

"So I went in there with a little trepidation," Carney said. "I found him to be real easy to work with, and I learned a lot from him, but I didn't go in there with those expectations. The passion of his is for more treatment of those incarcerated."

Former Attorney General Charley Oberly said Sullivan usually gets what he wants.
"Larry didn't get where he did by rolling over. He's a tough guy," Oberly said. "Larry's traversed waters and finessed things politically and practically in ways no one else could."
Chief Justice Myron Steele of the Delaware Supreme Court, who has also served as deputy attorney general, Superior Court judge and as vice chancellor of the Court of Chancery, has high praise for the caliber of public defenders that have appeared before him over the years.
"Uniformly, the quality is very good. They're very dedicated. They work very hard, and by their own choice they become specialists," Steele said. "Larry is largely responsible for that. He's recruited them, and his office has shaped their attitude and work ethic."

Sullivan's biggest challenge since his initial appointment has been an attempt to reduce the case load his staff carries.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon commissioned a sweeping study of the criminal justice system, which produced national standards for defense attorneys, along with a host of other recommendations.

These national standards, which have been upgraded over the years and accepted by other states, are not adhered to in Delaware.

They specify that an assistant public defender's optimal case load should consist of no more than 150 cases.

"In our office, they carry 210, and it's even worse when you get to the Court of Common Pleas or Family Court, but the consequences are less severe," Sullivan said. "That continues to gnaw at me. Something's gonna break."

As a registered nurse and an attorney, Assistant Public Defender Lisa Schwind is integral to the Forensic Services Unit and the Innocence Project, two of Sullivan's innovations.

Nurses and forensic experts in the Forensic Services Unit review all major cases. The Innocence Project helps convicted defendants re-open their cases to test old DNA evidence. Attorneys working with Schwind on the project have examined more than 250 cases, and filed 18 petitions for DNA testing.

Schwind has worked for Sullivan since 1989. Like many in her office, she has no plans to leave.
"He's mentored me, acted as a friend, and allowed me to grow in a phenomenal manner as a professional, way beyond my expectations," she said. "He's never allowed things to become stagnant. We're constantly growing, coming up with new ideas and he really cares about the clients and the staff."


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