Oral history on his career as lawyer, ethics teacher, Fed. Court Study Comm.; legal counsel to KY Dept. of Public Advocacy; US Supreme Ct. Ltg.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Jan 1, 1991|
|Where relates to:||Kentucky|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
Georgetown University Law Center
National Equal Justice Library Oral History
Interview of Vincent Aprile
Interviewer: James Neuhard
Interview Date: 1991, n.d.
Vincent Aprile: Presently general counsel for the department of public advocacy which is the statewide public defender program for the commonwealth of Kentucky. I live in Louisville, Kentucky, work in Frankfurt, Kentucky, the state capital.
James Neuhard: Before we get into your general education — where you were born, where you were raised and that — the term “general counsel” isn’t immediately understandable to people as opposed to being the director of — being the public defender or something like that. Would you describe what the role is for general counsel?
Vincent Aprile: Well, maybe it would be helpful to describe, first of all, the person who is the equivalent of the executive director of the public defender program is called in Kentucky the public advocate, and that is an appointed position. I am a civil service employee. Most of the public defenders in Kentucky are state employees. And —
James Neuhard: That’s the same as civil service? Also civil service?
Vincent Aprile: Right. The full-time state employees are civil service. Right. And I am the highest civil service-type employee in the office and in the system. What that — in my role as general counsel, I represent the public advocate. I represent the department of public advocacy in civil suits. And I function as ethical and legal advisor to the attorneys within the system. We are called public advocates of Kentucky, because in addition to doing public defender work, we also do developmental disability work — at least one section of our office. And the general counsel is the only person, besides the public advocate, who is over both arms of the department of public advocacy — the public defender part and the disability — developmentally disabled representation group.
James Neuhard: Who hires the public advocate — I mean, who hired you?
Vincent Aprile: At present, the method of selecting the public advocate is the commission — the public defender commission sends three names to the governor. The governor must choose a public advocate from those three. Those names — I say “must send three.” That’s in debate. That’s in disagreement about that. Most of the time three names have been sent over. The statute indicates sending three over. The governor picks that person. The person serves at a 4-year term. The governor has the ability to discharge that person. It’s not clear, but it’s taken to be for cause. But that’s the way it’s been dealt with in the past.
James Neuhard: And you? How are you selected?
Vincent Aprile: Everyone else, other than the deputy and the three division heads, are merit employees or civil service employees. So you are ultimately hired by the public advocate or someone he delegated the hiring and firing to. I was hired by the public advocate.
James Neuhard: The division heads and the deputy are not hired by the public advocate?
Vincent Aprile: They’re hired — I didn’t make that clear — they’re hired by the public advocate, but they are not civil service. They can be — they’re at-will employees.
James Neuhard: So the new defender comes in, a public advocate comes in, he can replace them.
Vincent Aprile: By statute the public defender, the public advocate, and the deputy are stated to be appointed positions. And the public advocate appoints his own deputy. By our internal organizational structure for over probably 15 years — about that long — it has been the head of the defense services division, the public defender component, the administrative services component, and then the developmental disability — or protection and advocacy — component, those three people have been appointed by the public advocate and serve at the public advocate’s discretion.
James Neuhard: Two kind of place questions. When did the department of public advocacy come in — what year?
Vincent Aprile: The department of public advocacy started in — I think the effective date of the legislation was October 1972.
James Neuhard: And how long have you worked there?
Vincent Aprile: I came in on June 11, 1973. And so, I’ve been there what? Nineteen — 18 years.
James Neuhard: Let’s go back to the very beginning. Where were you born? Where were you raised? What kinds of — what schools did you go to?
Vincent Aprile: I was born in Norton’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, June 14, 1943. I lived in Louisville, Kentucky until the end of the fourth grade. The fifth and sixth grade I lived in Dayton, Ohio, and then came back to Louisville for the end of the sixth grade and stayed in Louisville, Kentucky until I graduated from law school.
James Neuhard: So let’s take it through — where did you go to college? What year?
Vincent Aprile: I went to Bellarmine College, which is a Catholic — at that time it was a Catholic male college in Louisville, Kentucky, and that was from 1961 to 1965. And I was an English major. And, when I graduated from Bellarmine, I went to University of Louisville Law School where I got my JD degree in 1968. So I went from ’65 to ’68 in law school. And then at the end of that time — well, actually in April of 1968, it became very clear to me that I was going to be drafted in the Vietnam War. And so, I took the bar exam after I graduated from law school. I took that in, I think, July of 1968. And got the results in September — early September — that I had passed the bar. And, by late September, I enlisted in the army, because I had been told by the draft board I would be drafted by the army or the marines in the first part of November of ’68.
James Neuhard: The marines could draft? I didn’t know that.
Vincent Aprile: I believe the marines were the only other people besides the army who could draft.
James Neuhard: Wow. So you enlisted. And what was the reason for enlisting? Why not — why not the navy or the air force?
Vincent Aprile: Right. Well, I did check out the judge advocate general corps of the army, because I was a graduate of law school and also had passed the bar. But the next board — I didn’t do this promptly enough; procrastination, I guess — the next board would have been March of 1969 that would have come down with the appointments or commissions — whatever you would call them — I guess “commissions” as a JAG officer. And the draft board — my local draft board — would not wait any longer. They said I could not have an extension to see if I could get in the JAG board. They wanted to draft me by 1 November 1968 for their quota. So my father talked to a friend of his who was a recruiting sergeant and who supposedly had the scoop on all this and told me that — told my father to tell me that, with my educational background, I should enlist — take three years, enlist in military intelligence, and because of my background, I would end up doing security investigations, background checks, or security clearances in the United States. His guess was I would end up in San Francisco, Chicago, or some place like that doing background checks on people. And surely that would be a better deal to add that extra year on the two years you would do for draft, if you were drafted, to avoid the combat situation. Well, I took my father’s friend at his word. I went in as an enlisted man in military intelligence. When I finally got to the school, military intelligence school, the first test we took was on map reading. And they weren’t maps of Chicago and they weren’t maps of San Francisco; they were maps of Vietnam, and I made the best score on the test. And I began to doubt seriously that I would ever go any place but Vietnam if I stayed in military intelligence. But actually, even before that had happened, I had put in my name while in the service to the JAG corps to see if I could get a commission.
James Neuhard: So what happened?
Vincent Aprile: Well, it’s already been a long story. I’ll try to make it a little bit shorter. But, when I got to Fort Hollenberg, which was in — it’s now closed down base — but Fort Hollenberg was in Baltimore, Maryland, and it was the home of military intelligence at that time. Military intelligence now, I think, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. But, when we got there, there were so many people that were lined up to go into military intelligence that they had nothing for us to do. So they’d wake us up — in the military way, they’d wake you up at 4:30 in the morning, feed you, and then dismiss you for the day. But we’re making $80.00 a month as enlisted men. The post was totally wide open. But there was nothing to do. We didn’t have that much money. So I went into what I thought was the JAG office on post. Told them I was a lawyer. I passed the bar, graduated from law school, all of that, and that I’d glad to just do any legal work that they could assign me rather than, you know, sit around nothing to do all day. I thought it would be in their interest and mine. Turned out it wasn’t really the JAG office. It was the central claims office for military claims — army military claims. So I ended up in there. And the people there told me they would support me if I put in for a commission. So I got a lot of references from other JAG officers and everything. So, in April of 1969, I was commissioned. I went from a private first class to a captain in the United States army. And went to JAG school and went to University of Virginia in Charlotte — what is that? — Charlottesville? I think that’s right. Virginia. And from then on, I had to do about five years in the military.
James Neuhard: Because you went to JAG and extended your time.
Vincent Aprile: Four years from the date of the commission and I’d already been in eight months. So I was in four years and eight months exactly. Right.
James Neuhard: So just to get the time — you went JAG in what year?
Vincent Aprile: April, 1969, after going into the military in September of ’68.
James Neuhard: So you were committed to 1973.
Vincent Aprile: Right. I got out in May of ’73 and went with the department of public advocacy in June ’73.
James Neuhard: Well, it’s not the purpose of this particular tape to get into the JAG background. What did you do there? What kind of services did they provide? And who’s eligible for the services?
Vincent Aprile: Well, basically, I think that it had an awful lot to do with my ultimate career choice. I went in — after the JAG school, I went to Korea. Remember this is during the Vietnam War. I went to Korea. I was stationed in Seoul with a — what was called by various names while I was there — field army support command, which is a very — the largest general court-martial jurisdiction in all of South Korea. So it meant that I did a lot of trial-level criminal law practice from the most moderate charges up to general court’s martial. So for 13 months in Korea, I did primarily defense work, some prosecution work. And the right to counsel in the military was such that, of course, didn’t matter how much money you had. Outside of the army, or how much money you were making in the army, you had to write if you were charged with a crime or if you were facing an administrative hearing like a discharge board, you had the right to have military counsel appointed for you, and in most instances, the right to request a particular individual to represent you. And often those were honored. Particularly if you requested a by-name JAG officer.
James Neuhard: Who was your — in the hierarchy of things what kind of independence did a JAG officer have? Were you rotated as a prosecutor? Didn’t make difference one day you were a defense lawyer, one day you’re a prosecutor?
Vincent Aprile: Yes. It’s drastically different than that now. But at the time that I went in, it was like within one year or two years after major revisions in the military code. And one of the things that we had in that situation was, for example, I was in the general support — general support command. So that meant that my staff judge advocate — person who was ultimately in charge of me — usually a colonel or lieutenant colonel — worked directly for the general who was in charge of this whole command structure, who was the ultimate general court-martial convening authority. So the person who had control over the prosecutors and defense attorneys for administrative purposes was directly controlled by the person who was in charge of administering all discipline. So you can see, first of all, there was not a healthy separation there at all. Secondly, the staff judge advocate had the right to move you back and forth between defense and prosecution. And I know you don’t want to go too much into this, but I’ll just throw these out, because these are important considerations. I arrived in July of 1969 in Seoul Korea. The first question asked of me by the deputy staff judge advocate in trying to determine my assignment was, “What kind of experience do you have?” I told him I had never clerked for anyone. I’ve never participated in any clinics or anything like that. So I had really no experience. They said, “Oh good — you’ll be a defense attorney.” And so, I went and did —
James Neuhard: How did you read that?
Vincent Aprile: I read that to mean that if you were experienced we want you on the prosecution side, so that will increase the chances of being able to convict people.
James Neuhard: If you had any other choice — if you had been given a choice, what would your choice have been?
Vincent Aprile: I think my choice would have been to be a defense attorney based upon my feelings from law school, the readings I had done, et cetera. I was always interested in criminal law, but I can’t say that my career choice as a lawyer had been made at the time I went into the army. But I don’t think I would have said in the very beginning, “Make me a prosecutor.” What happened in actuality was I was very successful early on. And, after a string of wins — and, you know, you measure “wins” different way; I’m not saying “total acquittals” in every instance — they came to me and said, “You have to be a prosecutor now.” I said, “No, I’m happy what I’m doing.” They said “You have to be a prosecutor.” And the only way I got to go back to being a defense attorney was — it wasn’t that I wouldn’t try to win the cases, but what I would do is, I would refuse some of their general directions — which I probably legally and ethically didn’t have to do right to do, but they would say, “Go in and recommend a sentence — maximum sentence –” and I would not do that. And then they’d get all upset. Staff JAG advocate, the deputy would get upset and say I had to do that. And I just said, “Well, I’m not going to do that.” So in retaliation they threw me in the briar patch where I wanted to be happy doing defense work, but they retaliated by giving me the worst caseload of anybody in our group. But I got to do what I wanted to do.
James Neuhard: Well, this issue of independence and conflicts has not gone away outside of the military — this wedding of being under a judge, in terms of running a defender office, who hires the defender and placing defenders and prosecutors in the same courtroom with the same judge forever and the long-term de facto relationships. So the experiences in JAG, while unknown generally to the rest of the bar, unless you’ve been in JAG, it’s not generally popular. General public never heard about it. I think lawyers never heard about JAG. But everybody can relate to this issue of the appearance of conflict and the reality of conflict. But those things — especially given where we’ll get to later you ended up, which you lecture about frequently — did any of those thoughts cross your mind that you felt the pressures? I mean, they were theoretically there, but did you actually feel judges trying to manipulate what you did in a particular case for a particular person, or — ?
Vincent Aprile: Well, I have to say this — that I was very fortunate from the judiciary point of view as opposed to this military administration point of view in this change I referred to earlier where they had changed the code of military justice. They had, for the first time, created an independent judiciary. And now, the judiciary was more than just law officers who had to do the will of the president of the court-martial. These people were independent and they were like trial judges. So I spent those 13 months under two judges who were pretty decent. And they gave me a lot of freedom. They — they looked after the clients. They weren’t perfect by a long shot, but they were fair in many ways. I had complaints about individual cases, but overall they helped quite a bit. So it wasn’t so much that we felt — that I or my colleagues felt a big problem from the judges. They were pretty sympathetic and appreciative of our situation. It was the actual administrative military structure — the staff judge advocate, the deputy — where you really felt the conflicts. And you know — you knew on a day-to-day basis they had tremendous control over your life. They had control over whether or not you could go on pass, whether or not you could go on — take a vacation — the equivalent of a vacation — or anything like that. And they controlled your caseload. So in that way you sensed those problems. I was very concerned from the very beginning though. I can remember times when I prosecuted cases where individual, he would come in having selected their own attorney. Co-defendants, for example. I would always state on the record that the army has no objection to providing Co-defendant A and Co-defendant B with separate counsel. And we want the record to have their waiver if they want to proceed with Captain Jones from — who’s a lawyer and who was a lawyer in civilian life, who’s now with the Eddington general’s office — we want that on the record. And the judges would be good about accommodating that. And, if those people would have said, “Yeah, we don’t want this one man to represent us even though that was our original choice,” they probably would have stopped the proceedings and got them separate counsel. So there was an awareness from the very beginning for me those first 13 months of work as a — truly as a lawyer of conflicts and of the need for everybody in the system to try to avoid them. I mean, I did it as a prosecutor. I try to do it as a — as a defense attorney.
James Neuhard: Were any of the people that you worked with then — do you know where they are now, what they’re doing?
Vincent Aprile: Not during those 13 months — those original people. But actually, I do know where one is. One was a best man in my wedding in 1970 when I got back. He’s in a private law firm in Pittsburgh. Large law firm. And he’s in litigation. He was not a JAG though. He was in some other branch of the service and had been detailed to us, because we had a shortage of lawyers for a while. But he was a very, very zealous advocate and could have been a good private or criminal defense lawyer or public defender. I have lost track of the other people that were in that particular group with me.
James Neuhard: We had 13 months. So that’s in Korea.
Vincent Aprile: That was trial work only.
James Neuhard: So now what happens after that?
Vincent Aprile: Because I had done a 13-month tour during my four years of JAG and I had done it upfront, it counted the same as having gone to Vietnam. So they could not send me — the military and the army, JAG — could not send me to Vietnam. So I was one of the people who could call my shot. And I debated very hard mentally over going to Europe, to live in Europe for the last three years, or to go to Washington, D.C. and do appellate work. My choice was between going to Europe and having the different environment, cultural environment, but probably doing a lousy job, something I wouldn’t enjoy, or going to D.C., being able to do criminal defense appeals and also to get a masters degree in law. So I ultimately decided to go to D.C. area and went to do nothing but criminal defense appellate work out of Falls Church, Virginia actually is where it was.
James Neuhard: So, prior to this, in the time in which you were at Bellarmine, what was going on in the country at that time? There was a huge Civil Rights Movement that was going on, the riots that occurred, there was revolution going on in criminal law. Where were you at when you first decided — when you come out of law school. Did you picture yourself being — you mention before not quite seeing yourself necessarily as a criminal lawyer at that point. But were you affected by that political times in terms of your own value structure midway through your career?
Vincent Aprile: Yes, I think I was. I may be going back too far, but I’ll tell you that in the 7th grade — okay, which is back before the time period you’re really talking about — in the 7th grade we had this civics program that was a model program in this Catholic grade school I went to. And I was elected in the 7th grade to be the 8th grade prosecutor. We had a system of punishments for offenses committed outside of the classroom where kids wrote tickets for people who talked in the hall, talked in the lavatory, things like that — smoking in the restrooms. And, on Friday afternoon, my entire eighth grade, I prosecuted these people. And kids — men and women, boys and girls — from the eighth grade could come down and volunteer to be defense counsel for these other kids who were from seventh — well, some other eighth graders — all through the grade school. And so, every Friday I prosecuted people, and I suspect that went a long way toward turning me into a defense attorney. I got tired of making the same boilerplate arguments over and over again to a jury of selected, you know, volunteers who wanted to come on Friday afternoon — other grade school kids — and punish people or acquit them.
James Neuhard: You became Dr. Death Torquemada in eighth grade, huh?
Vincent Aprile: That’s right — that’s exactly right. And so, I think my whole life has been trying to atone for that.
James Neuhard: Not the great movement of society but the halls of eighth grade.
Vincent Aprile: But by the time — well, I’ll tell you this — for example, when I was in high school — and I was in a very good journalism class that also put out the high school newspaper; this was an all-male Catholic high school — Trinity High School — and one of our assignments was to write a letter to the editor about — of the major newspaper there, the Louisville Courier-Journal — see if it could get published on a major social problem. And this was about the time that — of Governor Faubus and integration at Little Rock.
James Neuhard: Mm-hmm.
Vincent Aprile: And I wrote a letter that — this is a bad paraphrase, but it started something like, “Bring on the tanks. Bring on the troops. Integration is the law of the land. If we have to send the military in there to require the people of Arkansas to have integration, then that’s what we should do.” And it went on, of course. That prompted — which isn’t unusual, but I wasn’t ready for it; nor was my family. When they published that article, my — the Courier-Journal —
James Neuhard: That was the letter.
Vincent Aprile: Letter, I’m sorry. Published the letter. My home where I lived with my parents was the subject of violent telephone calls, hate mail. They threatened to bomb the house. I have one brother who’s 17 years younger than I am. So he had — he was just a babe in arms, because I was about 17 when I did this. For the first time, I guess, I have felt that, when you stand up and ask to be counted, that it is not without some — incurring the wrath of certain people. And, as good a liberal as my mother was, she was very, very frightened by this and could only see, you know, her family being blown up by K.K.K.
We received hate mail in magazines and newsletters from the K.K.K.
James Neuhard: What about kids in school?
Vincent Aprile: No, really. Trinity, that was not a problem. I did not catch any kind of grief.
James Neuhard: Were there minorities in the school at all?
Vincent Aprile: You know, that’s a good question. I believe the first black student was admitted to Trinity when I was a senior and he was a freshman.
James Neuhard: So you had no real social.
Vincent Aprile: No, it was all of my beliefs on integration really and truthfully came — what you would call vicarious or paper beliefs. My mother, in particular, was very, very strong on preaching equality to us and everything like that. But we had no black friends socially. No black children lived in our neighborhood — anything like that. So.
James Neuhard: So I know in Bellarmine you were involved in debate. Were you involved in debate in high school?
Vincent Aprile: Yes — yeah, all through high school.
James Neuhard: Did you have a sense you wanted to be a lawyer at that point?
Vincent Aprile: To a certain degree. I recognize that argumentation and oral presentation and things of that nature were things that I really enjoyed and I felt like I had some degree of talent or skill that way. And I figured it would play a large part in whatever career selection I made.
James Neuhard: Is that perhaps —
Vincent Aprile: I think — I’m sorry, go ahead.
James Neuhard: Oh, I shouldn’t be interrupting you, but at Bellarmine you were very successful in debate.
Vincent Aprile: We were at high school too. We really were.
James Neuhard: High school, college, and law school. You mentioned you probably got an actual like for it and perhaps ability in it. Did you have significant teachers — people who influenced you heavily in terms of debate or taught you a lot?
Vincent Aprile: No. I think that the Catholic grade school I went to, there was a lot of emphasis on oral reports and things of that nature. My best friend from about the first grade on through the end of freshman year of high school, we did a number of joint reports together that — in grade school I remember doing one on UFOs that sort of knocked the socks off the class and the teacher. But I think it knocked the teacher’s socks off, because toward the end of the report, we really got rolling. And we started explaining many of the miracles of the Catholic church in terms of UFOs and a nun that was in charge of class was very bothered by that. But I think that our success in those kind of oral reports and the type of training we got in grade school caused my best friend and I to go and ask the man — the priest who was the coach of the high school debate team to let us debate for him. And, when we asked that, he said, “I never take people until they’re sophomores.” And we convinced him. We won our first debate. We convinced this priest to take a chance on us that, if we could, you know — if we had a year extra that he didn’t normally give people, by the time we were sophomores, we would be better than we would be if we waited out for a year. And we actually ended up by the end of our freshman year being the number one varsity team. And he moved away — my friend moved away at that time, but I stayed on at varsity throughout that time. I would say that another thing that ties in more than the debating with the sense of social consciousness is that I was very actively involved — and see if I can still remember it — the National Student Association when I was at Bellarmine, which was a — the National Student Association and the National Association of Catholic College Students were very prominent at that time — at Bellarmine both of those were very prominent. I never did much with the Catholic college students, but I was the campus coordinator at one time of the National Student Association. And so, we emphasized a lot integration and those types of — and poverty issues and things like that. So I was — I didn’t go to a lot of national training, but I was — I took in a lot of the literature and things like that, conducted things on campus.
James Neuhard: Were you consciously _____ at that point?
Vincent Aprile: Yes. Sort of particularly, I guess, I would say for sure the last two years of college it was things we actively discussed — put programs on through NSA and other things and also in law school, of course. And in law school it became obviously much more pressing, because it was a reality particularly — particularly the last two years of law school.
James Neuhard: Well, both integration — for you who lived in the South at that time particularly, as you mentioned the letter you published and the war, were not theoretical elements. They were very real. Affected you in very real way — both of them.
Vincent Aprile: Well, Louisville was — Louisville was a very difficult place to read racially. In the 50’s — mid 50’s, I think, we integrated movie theaters. And you didn’t see — to the best of my recollection — I don’t remember seeing “white-only, black-only” drinking fountains or anything like that. Now, outside of Louisville you would have found that in the state of Kentucky, but I don’t remember that as really being much of a problem as I was growing up. Now, it is true that there was an isolationism there. There was — Mohammed Ali, for example, went to high school at Central High School, which was the only black high school for all of Jefferson County, which is the county that Louisville was in. So there was segregation, but it wasn’t total segregation, and it wasn’t such an obvious overwhelming segregation like you would have found probably in Tennessee and south of there. So in Louisville, that was a little bit different. It didn’t feel as oppressive, but as you know from the riots that we had in Louisville when we had full integration of the school system and things like that that it certainly was an undercurrent — very strong undercurrent of racism even in Louisville. I’m not trying to say that that’s not true.
James Neuhard: So you went through these experiences — one with the war where you ended up in the military but made choices to avoid combat. Plus you went through the integration part of it. Plus you got this incredible training in debate carried from grade school, high school, college, into law school. Was the experience of debating, which was generally more like appellate practice than trial practice in terms of structure and training, did that — now that you’re in your career, we’ve got you up to when you were in appellate practice — did that influence your desire of appellate practice or was that simply what was available in Washington, that’s why you did it?
Vincent Aprile: No. It influenced it very much. There’s one thing we’re leaving out of the equation, that might help to explain it too. That is, I guess, from a practical or pragmatic point of view, the type of debating that we did back then and that I put a lot of stock into was not just being good on your feet — although I did extemporaneous individual events and won championships in that, but it was also really working on argumentation. I mean, we blocked out even as high school kids, you know, “This is the initial argument, the prima facie case. When they say this, we’re going to be ready to say this, this, this, and this.” So my education, my debating experience, you know the type of Catholic education I got — the debating experience — our emphasis on argumentation not just style — oral style — it really made me interested in arguments at both — argumentation that you would do at both the trial and the appellate level. And I went to college on a partial half-scholarship for debating, and I went to law school on a scholarship that was really based, in all honesty — I mean, it wasn’t called this, but I know I got it as much — for my intercollegiate debating accomplishments as anything else. And then I was on the National Court Team in law school that went to the quarter finals and the national, the farthest University of Louisville at that time had ever gone in the competition. We lost, as I say, in the quarter finals. So that, of course, the court was appellate argumentation. I had never really done anything that came close to it — to — well, that’s not true. I should rephrase it. I started to say “I’d never done anything that really seemed like trial work in debating.” But there was a style of debating that we did a lot in high school and some in college called “cross-examination debating.” And actually, as a kid, I read a number of works on cross-examination. And we had some pretty sophisticated — for them — and for what we were doing it in — styles of cross-examining our opponents. We even had two-man cross-examination of the speaker, you know? Candid cross-examination — which is a technique I even use now teaching at the National College of Criminal Defense.
James Neuhard: You mean, other than your Torquemada experience, which you obviously had a very negative downstream effect on. So now you’re in Washington. What did you do there?
Vincent Aprile: All right. In Washington, the arrangement was this — this is an interesting comment perhaps on independence.
James Neuhard: Let me ask one other question before we move on about the debating.
Vincent Aprile: Sure.
James Neuhard: Any of your other teammates, people end up in public defender as lawyers? I mean, not from law school, obviously.
Vincent Aprile: Let me think. Well, actually, Laurence Tribe was a debater at the intercollegiate level. A guy I used to run into occasionally. You know the law professor, Laurence Tribe? I can’t remember — he’s a couple years older or couple years younger. But certainly we didn’t go to the same school or anything like that. That’s somebody that jumps to mind. I also coached — and from the time I was a sophomore in college, I started coaching high school debate teams as a source of extra money. And the last high school team I coached, which I coached as a senior in law school, University of Louisville. They were nine girls, women, on the varsity team at that time. First varsity in that. I can think of. One of them was a public defender and now is an assistant attorney general. One of them is a private criminal defense lawyer today. And a third one is a civil practitioner in Lexington, Kentucky. So out of those — those nine I know that three of them for sure are lawyers. And maybe a couple others that I lost track of that are lawyers too. So there was a — there was a real correlation. Well, my last high school debate partner — he’s a lawyer. Took him a while to get there, but he’s a lawyer in Oakland, California now. Doesn’t do much criminal defense, but. So there — yeah, I saw a constant correlation that way. We’ve employed people in the department of public advocacy. Bill Ratigan, Louisville, Kentucky is an example. He and I’ve talked about this many times. He credits his debating experience at high school and college as helping to push him particularly into criminal defense work.
James Neuhard: So now you’re in Washington.
Vincent Aprile: Now I’m in Washington. In Washington the arrangement was, there was a building called the massive building. And it was in Falls Church, Virginia probably eight minute drive from the 14th Street Bridge, okay? In D.C. In that building on the second floor, you had my office, which was the defensive appellate division. You had government appellate division down the hall, and then you had the intermediate military court, which was an army court that we went to — the army court military review. So that the people, you know, you prepared your briefs for that court. You went right down the hall and argued when you wanted — when you got mad at the opposing counsel for the government, that was like you walked down the hall, you know, opened the door, and went into this big area and started yelling at the person you were mad at. You went into the restrooms. And on one side of you while you were urinating was the government counsel on a case and on the other side was one of the intermediate court judges.
James Neuhard: All dressed the same way?
Vincent Aprile: All — well, not really true. Only on court days. We were allowed to wear slacks, shirts, and ties. Didn’t even have to have — I think we had to bring a sport coat to work or a suit. But we didn’t even have to keep the jackets on. We only wore uniforms when we argued. So — now, I should say the judges — they wore their uniforms a little bit more. The appellate lawyers — no. But we all knew each other and everything like that. So you were very, very careful about what you said in the restrooms. And there was a sense of familiarity that I didn’t like. I thought we should have been more separated. There were some advantages, but already you could feel it’s not a real healthy atmosphere to be that — in my opinion — to be that close together.
James Neuhard: Did people talk about it? Everybody was aware of it, uncomfortable with it?
Vincent Aprile: Most of the defense attorneys were uncomfortable with it.
James Neuhard: What about the prosecutors?
Vincent Aprile: I didn’t hear — obviously, I was closer with the appellate defense attorneys, but I can’t really remember having a discussion too much about —
James Neuhard: Did they rotate?
Vincent Aprile: No. Unlike the situation we talked about in Korea, you were assigned to one of these two. And a person would virtually have had to request a re-assignment.
James Neuhard: And how long were you supposed to be in assignment?
Vincent Aprile: My arrangement was that I would finish my term, or in the army — unless I re-enlisted — I mean, accepted an extension — that I would finish up there. That was the arrangement.
James Neuhard: Is that normal that you would be in that position for three years?
Vincent Aprile: If — well, of course, I told you before — because I had the short-term out of the way, I could stay wherever I wanted to. If somebody comes — came there as their initial assignment for four years, they would never have stayed there the four years. They would have been sent either to Korea or Vietnam, somewhere in the middle of that.
James Neuhard: Was this building on a military base?
Vincent Aprile: No, it was a government office building, one of many in that area that was Falls Church. To look at it, you would have thought it was just an office building. And, since we didn’t wear uniforms very often, that was the same way. I did not live on a post for those three years. I would go on a post to use the PX, because it was cheaper to purchase things there — things like that. So, during that three years, I had two main functions — well, three. One was to do appeals from courts martial from around the world — army only — to this intermediate court of military review. That was a mandatory review. Then we took discretionary cases like cert petitions to the court of military appeals, which was a civilian court — military court — three-person court down at the — in D.C. federal judiciary square — or Judiciary Square, I guess it’s called — near L’Enfant Plaza. And that was the equivalent of us getting a grant of cert when we got those. And I had a large number of those — I think something like 19 in the three years I was there. And the other job that I guess that I did there was to work very hard for a publication that was called The Advocate. And that that publication was a way by which we disseminated training information from the appellate level down to the trial attorneys. And I know you can appreciate that. And most people in the defender movement can see that that was something that was — that is very common for the appellate attorneys to be distributing their information about cases and techniques et cetera through some kind of house organ down to the trial attorneys. And we were doing it even then. And I didn’t start it. It was already going there.
James Neuhard: Did you meet your clients?
Vincent Aprile: No. Only — I met some of them, but it was not routine. Most of my clients, they were locked up or in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. And the military didn’t express any interest in —
James Neuhard: Talk to them?
Vincent Aprile: Talked to them on the telephone. Wrote — wrote letters to them. And some few would come into the office — those who were out and could afford to, or were in the area.
James Neuhard: Something else you did while you were there is, you went and got a masters degree.
Vincent Aprile: I went on the in-service GI Bill to George Washington University National Law Center and picked up a masters of law in criminal law, criminology, and psychiatry. Now, I primarily went at night. I think I got — at least one class I did during the day special permission. So that gave me the LLN. I got that right before I left — I think January of ’73 and I left in May of ’73.
James Neuhard: So now you’re getting out. Master’s degree. Accomplished debater. You were still captain.
Vincent Aprile: Captain — right.
James Neuhard: What was your oyster?
Vincent Aprile: Well, in some ways you feel like you have lost five years too. I mean, I had mixed feelings about that. Here I was going out looking for my job in the civilian world at the age of 30 instead of 25 as my peers, who had avoided military service or didn’t have to go, had done. So you had some mixed feelings. I went through a process of interviews — a few in the Washington, D.C. area, because we considered living there. I was married at that time. And I sent out letters in Louisville and didn’t get very many responses, but the largest law firm flew me back twice. And I went down to their choice between two people. And we had decided to not take the job, but I have to admit I really wanted them to offer it. They didn’t offer it; they offered it to the other individual. And I learned a very important lesson. I don’t know if this is true, but a year later from a fairly reliable source outside the law firm, I learned that the votes had gone against me in that law firm because of a story I had told to the middle-level lawyers — not the partners, but some of the higher-ranking associates at a lunch they took me to. I had explained to them that, while I was in the military in the defense appellate division, we had gotten a new head of that division midway through my time there. And he had, before coming to us, been in charge of a group of JAG — army JAG officers — who worked with U.S. — assistant U.S. attorneys when soldiers in the army and the navy and the marines — I guess the air force — sought to get out of the military on conscientious objector status but found habeas corpus actions. He — his people were trained with the U.S. attorneys to stop — to fight those habeas petitions. Well, a lot of those people are our clients, because they’d have these — they’d be peeling their court-martial, and we’d representing them. And they’d also have a civil attorney representing them on a federal habeas action. We found out that this gentleman, an officer, was going over to the Pentagon at night after he started being in charge of us and working with his old group on those cases. And a group of the senior ones of us — so this was like midway through my time there — we went in and confronted him, and we told him that if he didn’t cease and desist, we’re going to report him to the judge advocate general on the conflict of interest. And, of course, he resented that incredibly, but he agreed. And we monitored him. And he stopped doing it to the best we could determine. I told this story to these lawyers. My understanding was that, when top-level management in the law firm learned about this, they were very bothered that I would be somebody who would come into the law firm and be disloyal to the firm concept. So it’s a very early lesson too in ethics and, I guess, pragmatism. It wouldn’t have changed telling the story, I guess. So I was off —
James Neuhard: Where did you work in D.C — regular firms or government service, or — ?
Vincent Aprile: I interviewed a number of private firms in the D.C. area. Then also I had met a guy in Korea who was a lawyer but was not a JAG who was from the — had gone to law school at the University of Kentucky. His name was William Ayer. And we talked over the fact that we were from Kentucky. And I’d see him occasionally and that. I heard from — I heard that a judge from the army that I had written some pretty caustic appeals about had just taken over the Louisville public defender office. His name was Colonel (?Togan?). And, in fact, during the whole time he was head of the Louisville public defender he was called Colonel (?Togan?) by the people who worked for him. I called Colonel (?Togan?) up, and I said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I remember you and I’m from Louisville and I’m interested in a job.” He could pay me nothing even near my military salary. But he suggested that I call these people in Frankfurt who were just opening up their office. These offices started about the same time. And he said, “With your appellate background, they’d probably be really, really interested in you.” This is serendipitous, but I called up, and I asked to speak to the person in charge. And this was — the first public defender of Kentucky was a man named Tony Wilhoit, Anthony Wilhoit. And —
James Neuhard: This was 1973?
Vincent Aprile: 1973.
James Neuhard: The office hadn’t begun operation; was just hiring at that time?
Vincent Aprile: No, they had begun in about October of ’72, but real small group of people. And, while I’m talking to this gentleman, Tony Wilhoit, telling him my name, sitting in that room sort of listening in is this Bill Ayer. He says, “I know this guy from Korea. He’s a good guy. He was really a gung ho defense attorney.” He gets on the phone, says, “Hey, you know, I’m glad you’re interested in that. I’m working here now.” They sent an individual up who was coming to D.C. for another reason, a man named Paul Isaacs who was a staff attorney with them who interviewed me. And then, when I came back to Louisville for another interview, I went and interviewed with Tony Wilhoit and they offered me a job. At that point, I had not heard from the law firm that was down to two people. And my wife at the time and I decided that we didn’t want to go with this hot shot firm and that we’d take the public defender job. But we were going to wait till we heard what the law firm offered.
James Neuhard: Why?
Vincent Aprile: We felt like it was more us for me to continue. My wife was very supportive of the work I did in the army representing people who were accused of crime, and often people who wouldn’t have been able to hire private counsel. And some of the things about the law firm she wasn’t too interested in doing. I mean, the law firm said at that time — I don’t know that they would still do this — but they said “As many country clubs as you want to join, you know, we’ll help you pay the initiation fee.” And we have to put some of it up, but “We’ll pay your dues for all of them you want to be in,” and things like that. And we saw it as sort of a different — it would have been a different lifestyle. At that time I was 30, and she was what? 22. Than we were really interested in. But again, I want you to know I did want them to say, “You’re the choice,” but they didn’t. So I agreed to take the job in Frankfurt. I looked — Frankfurt is 50 miles about from where I’ve lived most of my time since I came back from D.C. to Kentucky in Louisville. So I looked at the school situation, because I had a daughter who was about three years old. Looked at the cultural situation in Frankfurt. And I thought, “If I want to work here, I’m the one who should have to sacrifice. The family will live in Louisville where my wife’s family was from and my family was all — all there. And so, I will be the commuter.” And that’s how I end up in Frankfurt and living in Louisville.
James Neuhard: So public defenders through this period that you’re talking about to 1973 — probably to this day it hasn’t changed in some circles — but we’re not typically viewed as being the cutting edge, the good lawyers. Public defenders for the most part have a bad reputation. Did that influence you at all as you thought about that? Did you know about public defenders around the country?
Vincent Aprile: I’d have to say that I really probably was naïve in some ways about the public defender concept. I probably did not have a strong feeling that public defenders were bad lawyers or that even appointed attorneys were bad lawyers. Although I’m sure I’d read some books in that — you know, about appointed lawyers dropping the ball particularly in the South — in capital cases, you know, novels and things like that. I had been very impressed, though, in the military by the difference people who really cared could make — and particularly at the trial level. And then I did get good reinforcement in the military of seeing the good results we could get even at the appellate level. So I was naïve about the pictures that you’re painting. But I was very buoyed by the idea that in this kind of work if you cared you could really succeed. I’d have to say this too that — trying to be candid for my own psychological assessment of myself that I’ve done back, you know, started — reflected over the years. I suspect when I came out at 30 of the JAG corps, I felt like I had done some very good things in the JAG corps and that I was a good lawyer. I was disappointed that many of the law firms that I interviewed with took the position that, you know, those five years don’t count for anything. I saw that a lot. And that was very depressing. I couldn’t understand it. Here I had a masters of law degree from a good school during that time period. And I had these 19 cases where cert was granted on the writs that I had written — or whatever you want to call them — discretionary review motions. And I just — I think that particularly from 30 to 35 in my life — so I went the first five years with that agency for the department of public advocacy, I wanted very desperately — I don’t think this was at a conscious level, but at a subconscious level, I wanted to demonstrate that I was a very good lawyer and I wanted all those people to know that I hadn’t wasted those five years. I pieced this together over the years. But I think that was a big driving force for me. And I think what it did — it caused me to say, you know, public defenders can be — from my point of view — public defenders can be the best lawyers around. And didn’t — not that I’ve been in any kind of analysis or therapy about this, but I’ve done my own, and I think that was the big major driving force for me. Now, I had very strong reinforcement of those principles in both of those jobs I had in the army. And I have to say that. I ran into individual people who try — particularly command people — to stifle that. But overall, I saw lot of good results come from good work. Basically would be this — I would get a phone call — somebody with Larry or Nick would say, “Can you give a lecture on voir dire? Can you give a presentation on cross-examination?” And, whether or not I had ever given one or not, I would say ‘yes’ and I would put something together to do it.
James Neuhard: Why?
Vincent Aprile: Well, because that’s what I had done for our programs. And I felt like — and I talked to the people who were the public advocates, I guess, at that time I would have talked to them and said, “This is something we can trade on.” You know, if I go and I give a presentation and help train people in Indiana, then I can see people up there who are doing training and say, “Will you now come and train our attorneys?” And we saw it almost as a barter arrangement. I was a commodity that could be bartered to get their good speakers, their good lawyers to come down, their good trainers to enhance our program. So it was really a “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch your back,” sort of approach. And also — I always felt like this — whenever I did a case, whether it was at a trial or appellate level, there were certain issues that I would do in that case that I would work out and work so long and hard on that it was only made sense to not just file them away until they came up in the Russian roulette of my practice. I wanted to pass that information on to somebody else, to a larger group of people who’d have a much quicker opportunity to use those techniques than I would.
James Neuhard: So eventually you start traveling by virtue of contacts and events that occurred by teaching at ____ and other events. You started appearing in more and more states, getting contacts in more and more states. What did you see in that? I mean, you came from Kentucky. You saw your system. You knew all its goods — strengths and weaknesses. You helped build it for the most part. Now you go out looking in other places — what did you see?
Vincent Aprile: Well, in some ways I was surprised. I suppose that I believed that a number of the states that I thought of as being more sophisticated than Kentucky would be light years ahead of us in their public defender programs, in their practice of criminal law et cetera. Well, that’s true in small niches of about any state. My overall feeling was that most people faced the very, very same problems regardless of the reputation their state had for sophistication or liberal opinions or whatever, they had the very same kind of problems. And I also found that most of the basics that we were teaching in Kentucky needed to be taught to the public defenders or the private bar doing criminal defense work all over the state — all over the country. And so, it seemed to me that we were all in a pretty similar situation. And so, the need for training was really out there.
James Neuhard: Did you run into a lot of provincialism, chauvinism? Myopia — people who, whatever reason, just couldn’t see beyond their own boundaries, were not interested in poking their head out of the sand — how other people were doing?
Vincent Aprile: I think it was interesting — I was as guilty as many of the people I stood up in front of. I was guilty, because I thought — particularly I remember one time going from the New York State Defender Association fairly early to do a program in New York City. And I just thought it was going to be on hypnosis. And also I was going to debate some local New York City prosecutor on proposed changes in their prosecution of sex crimes. And I really had convinced myself that they — you know, what are they going — they’re not going to want to listen to someone who’s billed as being an attorney from Kentucky. And I think I did some deprecating opening based on that to my initial presentation. So I sort of was concerned about that. In all honesty, some people open their arms and their minds without regard to that, regardless of the states you were in. Other places you did find that Kentucky was a stigma in a way, much as you might say I was saying “Mississippi” or some place like that. Lot of people would say, “All right — what can somebody from that state teach me about practice of law?” But the more universal problem — and maybe this is the one you were alluding to in your question — was the fact that so many people, regardless of the locale they came from — no matter how cosmopolitan, no matter how rural, no matter how urban, didn’t make any difference — that people would always say, “Oh yes — you can do that in Kentucky, but you can’t do that here. My judges won’t let you do this.” And, of course, anybody who’s done any kind of training in the criminal defense area — and I’m sure this is true in a lot of other areas, but particularly in criminal defense area — this is the biggest barrier to climb over. And fortunately, in many of the national trainings where you bring people together, you have a whole lot of people saying this, it all of a sudden doesn’t make sense. You got people saying, “I could do it in my jurisdiction. I can do it.” And these people saying, “You can’t do it with my judge.” This can’t be true. It’s not going to be that way. So that — you ran into those kinds of situations. I don’t know if that’s what you’re referring to. Question with regard to problems.
James Neuhard: Whatever my question was, the answer was what I wanted.
Vincent Aprile: I would say — then what happened was that a number of different people started asking for me to do things at a national level. I remember getting very, very interested because of a childhood interest in hypnosis. And I think around ’78, ’79, we had the situation where the — well, actually, the police officers were using hypnosis as an investigation device — enhancing memory and that sort of thing. And a number of people — Jim Neuhard, some attorneys from New York whose names escape me this moment — a number of different people got very interested in trying to debunk this whole link between hypnosis and enhancement of actual memory. And I believe it was at the 1979 NLADA conference in New Mexico that some of us, using NLADA money, brought in Dr. Martin Orne. And I remember doing a lot of teaching at that particular conference for the first time and for NLADA that I really did a lot of teaching. And then the next year would have been 1980 in Puerto Rico. And I did a number of sessions there. And after that, started doing a lot of training for NLADA. About that same time, the National College of Criminal Defense, which I guess was — I was at Houston at that time. Although they had never asked me to come teach at their summer trial practice program even though I’d attended it in 1976, they were asking me to go out and go around the country as part of a regional road show they did that was not trial — well, it was trial advocacy training, but it was not done in a workshop setting; it was done with lectures and those types of presentations — panel discussions. So I was doing a lot of presentations for them on different things in — I know Phoenix and in Chicago and places like that. But they hadn’t asked me to come do any of their trial advocacy training, I don’t think, until around maybe 1982 — something like that. So this is the kind of training I was doing nationally. And then I found out that, as I did this kind of national training, obviously in those audiences were individual program managers for public defender programs — in some instances, training directors of public defender programs. And people started asking, “Would you come and do this program? Or do some program for my particular state just as I had done in Florida, Indiana, and Ohio.” And again, it was the sense of the office, as well as myself, that this was something we could do to sort of trade off and bring quality trainers in from other states. I will say this in reflection — to my experience in 1975, ’76 when I went to the national college in Houston myself, they were building at that time a special program that would be three weeks long, trial advocacy training. And it was only for advanced people. So I went to this, and it was like in June of whichever year it was. And the first two weeks were nothing but lectures. There was no workshop or anything of that nature. And the last week was nothing but workshop. And I was really, really upset by the lack of truth in advertising. It seemed like every time somebody would ask a question from the podium about how many people in here have ever tried a case using a jury — a judicial — a juridical psychologist to help select the jury? I’d be the only one to raise my hand. I later found out that half the people in this advanced crew had never even tried a case. And so, that’s — when you look back on it, you could see the early days of the national college, it took a while before that system was refined and honed down to changing from this 3-week format into a 2-week workshop format where people were on their feet being videotaped as opposed to just sitting around and listening to talking heads.
James Neuhard: At this time also, you alluded to it — you became — you got elected to the NLADA defender committee and ultimately became its chair. When did you first get elected?
Vincent Aprile: I believe my first real involvement within NLADA must have been — in any kind of administrative matter other than teaching — must have been about ’78. And I think that I got involved being on the amicus committee and then chairing the amicus committee for about two years. I think that it was in 1980 that I was elected to the defender committee. I think I did two years on the defender committee. And then I was elected to the board. And I did two 3-year terms on the board. And that would have gotten me to 1988. And then I had a hiatus — the 2-year mandatory with leave from the board — before I can run again. And I was reelected in 1990 for a 3-year term to the board.
James Neuhard: During your time on the NLADA defender committee, what are the most important things that occurred both in terms of your coming on the committee, the things you worked on, the things that you saw and learned?
Vincent Aprile: I think one of the most important things for me and the contribution I was able to make was — at least to my knowledge, I was the first or one of the first non-heads of a program to be on the defender committee. And then from the defender point of view to be on the board. And I think this was good, because it gave — my perspective was a little different than perspective of the other managers who were actual heads of the program. And I think I had more of a feeling for the staff, more of a feeling for the foot soldiers in the defender movement from their perspective because of the role that I played. I was the training director for a while. And then I was the general counsel. But I was never — and still am not — the head of the office. So I think that perspective was very important. And I think it helped the other defender committee members I was with as well as the board members.
James Neuhard: You know it just dawned on me as you said that — getting into the ethics I want to cover. But you should have the unique position — unlike us managers — seeing the dilemma — at least one of the dilemmas — the many dilemmas you run into in ethical issues. The Chinese wall issue, as you mentioned before — trying to do two death penalty cases in the same office. Compulsion — “We’ll do it better than anybody, but gee, we got this conflict.” The second being that between management and the individual attorney, because you sat very intimately — both as doing actual cases, being general counsel, and then sitting with a bunch of managers in the NLADA.
Vincent Aprile: I think that’s very true. And I think that my role as general counsel often gives me a freedom that a manager doesn’t have — that is, to be able to say, “I think legally and ethically the managerial decision you have to make is this, but you’re the manager and you have to make the policy decision. This is my best guidance to you.” So, in some ways, I get the benefit of a much purer atmosphere. And I think I brought that in the later years and even now to the board and to the defender committee. I think also that I was really impressed, when I was fortunate enough to be tapped by the people who are already very involved in NLADA, to first of all participate in an amicus committee. But, more importantly, when I was allowed — when I was asked to chair it — because I saw how important it was that, in the instances of actual controversies of cases, that the organization take a stand on the issues that we were so committed to in theory. And oftentimes, that was much harder than you would think if you’re just thinking about it abstractly. I can remember, for example, in Polk County v. Dodson where the question was, “Should public defenders have immunity from 1983 actions?” And eventually, without going into great detail about this, we had to rethink totally because of our decision on what position we would take on this amicus brief, was that the real issue for us? Was there a way in which we could get around that issue and actually approach the real crux of the problem? And we turned out saying, “Wait a minute, we don’t want to ever be regarded as people who work under color of state law. We are not state employees even when we’re state employees. We are autonomous, individual deliverers of legal service, and we should not be treated as if we are government agents.” And the United States Supreme Court accepted our amicus presentation and decided the case on that basis. But oftentimes, the issues brought — I remember at least when I was a chair of the defender committee — the issues that were brought to the board and to the defender committee in those amicus cases helped us to better understand the principles we wanted to advance and how we would advance them in real practical situations and how we would interpret that. So I thought that was a very, very important part of my learning and what my service role in the organization was doing toward helping make the organization better. I also think that my involvement with the annual conference, which goes back as I mentioned before to probably Albuquerque and up through the present. And I’ve always done a lot of training — different type of training at the annual conference. And I think that in that way I’ve been able to bring to the attention of managers and staff attorneys — not just the basic fundamental issues like we talked about in — fundamental skills, like trial advocacy skills and things like that, but we’ve been able to use substantive training to get at the real issues of the day. Certainly, I was not the only person doing that, but I think that oftentimes my focus was a little bit different. While the managers might be focusing on caseload, they might be focusing on computerization and things like that, I was looking at — because of my unique position in the office that I work in — I’m looking at issues like sanctions, ethics, and things of that nature. I take a lot of pride in the fact that back in — I think it was 1981 — at the San Francisco annual conference of NLADA that we started a program that was going to last, I think, an hour and a half on ethical problems for criminal defense lawyers, and it went on for about three and a half to four hours. Even after we were supposed to get out of the room, nobody — very few people leaving and everyone so excited about getting their teeth into these issues. And, as everybody connected with training for lawyers knows today, that — we were so far in advance of that trend, because today that’s what everybody is interested in in every state in their continuing legal education programs is training on ethics, particularly litigation ethics even outside of the criminal defense area. So I’ve been very happy with what I’ve been able to been allowed to do by the organization in the area of substantive training and to put in my perspective in at the annual conferences. And NLADA in turn has certainly done a lot of things to help both my program and me personally. And a good example of that is, NLADA put my name forward as one of the people — as a potential representative of public defender services on the federal court study committee. And I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the 15 people on that committee.
James Neuhard: Let me stop you right there. How did you find out the fact you were selected?
Vincent Aprile: I had been told — I guess the best way to put this — I had been told by Mary Broderick about two or three months before that my name had been put in for some other program that I think involved the — the attorney generals of this country, and they were putting together some program. They ask NLADA to put a name forward — my name had been put forward with another attorney. And she called me up a couple of months later, “I’m sorry, Vince. They just weren’t interested in taking anybody from NLADA.” So then she called me up and said that she wanted my permission to be one of the names that would be submitted to the — I think to the administrative office of courts for Chief Justice Rehnquist to consider. And I thought that, my name, would have about as much chance as it had the prior time. And so, I just totally forgot about it. So one day as I was at the office in Frankfurt rushing around before I had to get back to Louisville for a new hearing in death penalty case, the phone rang. My secretary — I was standing out by her desk looking over her shoulder. She was typing something up on the computer for me for a motion for this guy’s — this death penalty hearing I was going to. She said, “It’s a phone call from the Chief Justice’s office.” And I believed, of course, that that was the Kentucky Chief Justice — certainly not the United States Supreme Court Chief Justice. I said, “Well, I guess I have to take it if it’s from the Kentucky Chief Justice’s office.” And, as I went back into the — to take the phone call, my secretary said, “You know, this may not really be the chief justice of Kentucky. This sounds like Jim Neuhard’s secretary.” And she said, “In fact, the more I think about it, it is Jim Neuhard’s secretary.” And, when I picked up the phone, I was surprised, because I thought, “Wow, this doesn’t sound –” When they said, “Please hold for the chief justice,” it didn’t sound like the Kentucky Supreme Court. And I thought, “Is this Jim Neuhard pulling my leg?” Fortunately, before I could say anything in a smart alecky way, a voice came on the phone and said, “This is Chief Justice Rehnquist from the United States Supreme Court.” And it didn’t sound a whole lot like Jim Neuhard. And so, I went ahead and listened. And I was told that I had been appointed to the federal judicial — I’m sorry, the federal court study committee. And, as it turned out, when I analyzed — along with a number of other people — the appointments to that committee, it became very clear to me that my appointment was very important, because whether I liked it or not, I was the voice for the criminal defense bar primarily, the federal and state public defenders, and for all practical purposes — because of my NLADA connections — I was also the only person there really in a good position to speak on behalf of even the legal aid attorneys of this country. So it was not like there was another person on the committee that could take on many of those responsibilities where my job could look out for all of those things. And that was a very, very heavy responsibility. But I do think that some of the things that the federal court study committee did and did unanimously will be very, very helpful to what are most of those constituencies.
James Neuhard: Given criminal defense constituency particularly, public defender, what are a few of the things that are most critical that they recommended?
Vincent Aprile: Well, I think that the very fact that we have a unanimous recommendation from the federal court study committee with the regard to the need to ensure the independence of the public defenders and that there was an actual need — a recommendation that endorsed the idea that compensation to appointed counsel under the Criminal Justice Act had to be based upon a formula that placed a reasonable fee on top of an accepted rate of overhead — average rate of overhead — for lawyers in a particular area. Those were two very, very good and important recommendations to get. And the third recommendation in that related section dealt with recommendation that Congress or the federal judicial conference should institute a study of both of those issues — independence of the federal defenders and compensation of counsel in the federal courts doing representation of indigent defendants charged with crimes. And now, we have a congressional act that has adopted that recommendation of the federal court study. And then we have the judicial conference in compliance with that act. This month, the month of July, 1991, appointing apparently nine members to a committee that will investigate those two areas and come back to the judicial conference in enough time for them to submit a final report by March 31, 1992 to the federal Congress. I think that’s very, very important that we were able to accomplish that.
James Neuhard: You remember that committee?
Vincent Aprile: Yes, I’m one of the people appointed to them. Fortunately — because in our recommendation we talked about the need to have members of the defense community on that particular committee. We have the federal defender of San Diego, Judy Clark, and the federal defender of Seattle, Tom Hilliard — both of those people also appointed on it. So it is, as I’ve been told, nine people. We have three public defenders on there. We have really two federal judges, one federal magistrate judge, and a law professor. So we have a nice balance. But I do think it’s very important that we do have federal — the defenders represented on there in a meaningful way, not just with token representation.
James Neuhard: In your career to date, you’ve seen and experienced probably the most regimented system in the military JAG providing counsel in the prosecution, judicial services to traditional meat and potatoes criminal cases and military offences with incredible conflicts. You’ve experienced and taught conflicts all over the country. You’ve been general counsel. You’ve provided death penalty work. You’ve done appellate work. And certainly, as general counsel, you’ve seen from the mountaintop what a manager looks at. And you’ve had the opportunity — probably more than — to my knowledge, probably more than anybody — to travel across this country and meet public defenders and hear their problems, both in terms of the questions they ask and just over drinks just talking about what’s right, what’s wrong. And then with the work at NLADA and the National Study Commission, you’ve had to articulate, form these into two-sentence, three-sentence recommendations one branch of the federal. Looking forward from here, what do you think are the most — what are the most important things you see happening — the most important issues — and, if we have to choose in the firefight, what is it you want to walk out and make sure we got in our hands?
Vincent Aprile: Well, I think one of the most important issues and it has so many facets to it that it’s hard to discuss in even a lengthy amount of time though is the independence question. I think that there is a real danger that I have seen with even the very best public defender managers that there is a desire to oversee the work of the individual staff attorneys to the point that those managers will be making the decisions for those lawyers even though they are not the action attorneys on the case. And, because they’re well-motivated and because they’re good lawyers, they think they can do that better than, they think they’re protecting the client. But one of the real problems is the delivery system has to link up an attorney with a client. And so, you got this problem of independence. And then you’ve got also though, beside that problem of independence for that hopefully autonomous individual who is delivering the legal services, the need for the manager does have to make some type of supervision. It can’t be interference in the case, but it has to be supervision to ensure that the lawyer, his overall performance is a well-qualified, well-trained, well-motivated attorney. And those are incredibly difficult lines for a manager and for the attorney to walk. A staff attorney has to be able to say, “This is my case. This is my call.” But at the same time, the superviser’s got to be in there with case review and with an ability to say, “You are not living up to minimal standards — not in this particular case, but across the board.” Then you look at independence from our funding sources. It’s a very, very, very difficult question. Certainly we’re looking at the areas of commissions and other ways to buffer the public defender manager, the top-level supervisor, who has to make the tough decisions on budgeting and everything from his or her funding source. But at the same time, we’re confronted with — for example, in Kentucky — a very strong history of separation of powers and three — three branches of government, not four. And so, it becomes very hard for us to have independent system, but yet we have to have some sort of buffer, some kind of insulation, from the monetary problems that confront all of our funding sources, so that they can give us the ability to do our job of adequate caseloads, adequate attorneys so the caseloads aren’t overwhelming, with enough money to be able to employ people who can do more than a minimal job. Those are two very, very major problems. The other thing is — just on the question of public defender managers. You try to insulate a program so that there can’t be a retaliatory firing of the public defender. But the more you do that to protect the good public defender, the more that you are insulating the bad public defender from anybody being able to get rid of that person. So those are a few of the examples just in management of the real dilemmas we face and are going to require us to manage — to come up with concepts of management, fairness, and equity that recognizes the problems of the funding sources as well as the problems of our clients and our need to have that independence. I guess the other major problems that I see is in the area, of course, of the death penalty. And the biggest problem the death penalty presents is that it has broken the bank of the public defender systems. It has broken us spiritually. It is breaking us financially. It is breaking us emotionally. And the non-death penalty cases are being shortchanged throughout the systems wherever there’s a death penalty in place. And you have examples from all around the country where people get life without parole. And everybody looks at it and says, “How wonderful.” Person didn’t get the death penalty, and now we’re assigning an attorney with one year’s experience out of law school to do this man’s life without parole case, because all the experienced attorneys have to do the death penalty cases. We are going to end up as the floodgates — if the floodgates of execution occur, I see that very many of our best attorneys may very easily turn away when the killing becomes very real with their clients and say, “It’s not worth it for all the money — for the money we get, for the time, the devotion we put in for these clients, the system is too hard and the ultimate result is too much for us to take on a regular basis as our responsibility as people die.”
James Neuhard: What is it that gives you the most joy?
Vincent Aprile: I suspect I learned a long, long time ago that, although winning cases outright, winning them big — whether it’s getting a case reversed on appeal and the charge is dismissed or walking a client out of a courtroom on a not-guilty verdict from the jury or from a judge giving you a directed verdict of acquittal — and yes, I have had one of those before — is that that’s not what winning is about in our job. The basic most important thing — it is very hard for public defenders often to understand this — our job is to give our client his or her day in court. And that concept can mean so much more to them. If you’ve done the very, very best you can for somebody, if they can think, “I could not have paid someone all the money in the world to do more than this attorney did for me,” then I think that goes a long, long way. I had two clients — non-death penalty cases — that I picked up on appeal that I took everywhere you could take those cases. They were both life sentences, people who had enhanced sentences for murder. I lost those cases everywhere I went. I took them twice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Federal habeas — all of that. Never could get a nibble. Never could get a victory for either one of them. Both of those guys condemned to that — probably a lifetime in prison — wrote me letters that said, “Thank you. Nobody else could have done anything more for me.” Those people — I didn’t get them what I believe they were entitled to, but those people were able, I think, better to live with what happened to them, because they felt that they had the process that comes from having a lawyer that really cares. Once a criminal defense lawyer — once a public defender learns that — that all those bigger victories, if you want to call them that — those other victories you can accept and you can be happy and you can be so proud when you get those for somebody. But your biggest victory is knowing that your clients are satisfied — not always with the results, but the fact that they got an attorney who was devoted to them, did the very best they could, and marshaled all of his or her efforts on their behalf. Oftentimes, for our clients, they’ve never had anybody in their life do that for them once. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s my biggest victory.