It is one of the most iconic moments in American Literature and one of the most powerful scenes in the history of motion pictures. It is a line spoken to a young girl who has just seen her father fail to save an innocent black man from being convicted by a white jury in the Jim Crow South, for a crime he did not commit. As Jean Louise Finch sits on that “colored balcony” at the conclusion of the rape trial of Tom Robinson, Rev. Sykes utters an instruction which shows the deep respect her father, Atticus Finch has earned: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” As she looks around, Jean Louise realizes everyone around her is standing to pay respect to her father.
The very nature of criminal defense work can be disheartening. Those who practice criminal law pour their heart and soul into defending those who society shuns. Yet it is the respect that work deserves, as evidenced by the memorable scene Harper Lee gave us in To Kill A Mockingbird, which has inspired many a criminal defense attorney. This week, Florence County suffered a great loss with the passing of Jack W. Lawson, Jr., a man who earned similar respect.
Harper Lee could just have easily named the hero of her tale Jack Lawson. Webster’s defines the word “hero,” as a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Jack would have shunned any such description of himself. In Jack’s mind, all he tried to do throughout his legal career was what was just and right. However, it was those qualities which have made Atticus Finch the most revered hero in American film. It is also those qualities that made Jack Lawson a hero to those of us in the bar.
For a period of about eight years, Jack was a Deputy Solicitor here in the Twelfth Circuit. During that time, Jack prosecuted criminal cases with the same sense of justice and compassion with which he had defended cases. In 2008, Jack came back across the aisle to defend cases, becoming the Chief Public Defender for the Twelfth Circuit. Jack explained that he belonged at the defense table, because in his heart he was meant to defend people. Jack once said that the loneliest seat in the world was a defendant’s chair in a criminal case and that he was meant to sit beside those folks.
Atticus Finch explained to us that real courage was “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Jack Lawson exhibited such courage every time he sat down at that defense table and he kept showing that courage over the past few months as he fought to be able to return to the job he loved. To say that Jack Lawson will be missed is an understatement. He will be missed deeply by his family, his friends and by his community. Florence has lost a hero. We have lost our Atticus Finch.
The Oyster Roasts will never be the same without Jack...
SCNow article of Jack's passing here.