Kathy Heasley 2013-04-04 07:14:01
Guy Brown Is Transforming the Practice of Criminal Defense Law There aren’t many criminal defense attorneys who will tell a client, “I’ll defend you once, but I won’t do it twice.” Maybe none. Except for one, Guy Brown. He says he’s far from ordinary and that’s just a small part of the story. His clients don’t mind that Brown is a one-shot deal, because by the time they make their way to his Camelback and 24th Street offices in Phoenix, Arizona, they are often in big trouble—accused and most likely guilty of a felony. “I’m very honest with my clients,” says Brown whose intensity is something clients feel right away when he begins talking with them. “I tell them that I’ll go to hell and back for them, but I ask something in return. They have to be willing to change. If they are not willing to change, I’m not the lawyer for them. And we’re not their firm.” Brown makes it clear that what has gotten them to this place in their life isn’t working. They are at a crossroads and that they have found a firm that won’t just defend them and forget them. They have found a law firm with an underlying mission of transforming lives. But everyone Brown and his team represent must be open to the hard work of change. You’d think that with these tough requirements, Guy Brown PLLC would find it hard to gain clients to defend, but the opposite is true. Since his practice began in 2008, the growth has been exponential. “People talk in jails. They do. And they have the time to think about their lives and their futures. The ones who arrive at the conclusion that something’s got to change are the clients for us. People find religion in jail.” I Wanted to Be a Social Worker Brown’s chosen profession wasn’t law. He actually wanted to go into social work. But his father, who never graduated from high school, wanted better for his son. He didn’t want to see him mixed up with the kind of kids and the life he led in his youth. He was adamant about his son going to college and attending law school. “I didn’t want to be an attorney, but my dad, a forceful guy, wasn’t someone I was willing to say ‘no’ to. I did what I was told and managed to get through it.” Things didn’t get better when he graduated. His first job was in a public defender’s office in Clearwater, Florida. “My dad wanted me to be a securities attorney and work for the SEC. He defined that as success, but those jobs weren’t available. The position I took was ‘a job,’ and so was the next one, and the next one, and the next one.” Brown’s ‘jobs’ were all in firms where he practiced criminal law. I hated every minute of it and did the minimum to get by. I’m not proud of that history, but it is what it is,” Brown says, exhibiting his trademark candor. One day as Brown was preparing to leave his current job in Phoenix for a similar position at another law firm, a co-worker approached him and said, “Guy I hear you’re going to work for another firm and I wish you well. I hope what I’m about to tell you doesn’t offend you.” Brown listened as she continued, “God is tired of seeing you sitting on the fence. He’s given you talents; He wants you to go out and use them.” “Those words hit me hard. I felt like I had slept through half my career and I just woke up. It was then that I realized that even though I didn’t enjoy the practice of law, it could be a vehicle for transforming lives,” says Brown who began seeing his life completely differently. His own transformation had begun. And just like the people he serves, it took time to accept it and own it. I Won’t Stand in Judgment “I’m full of flaws. I had everything in my life and I did nothing with it. I defend people who often had nothing in their lives. Many of them, even if their mothers or fathers were part of their lives, were barely cared for. Living in random houses with drugs, guns and worse. The people I defend want to change, want to better themselves. I won’t judge them. They are better than I am. I was given everything including an education, and I threw it away for twenty years.” Brown is making up for lost time. He is a man on a mission leading a firm that attracts professionals of like mind and like heart. There are lawyers out there who believe as Brown does that serving the people that society has kicked to the curb and given up on is a worthy use of their time. “I run across people who don’t agree with that. They believe criminals should go to jail and we should throw away the key. I know differently because I live it every day and I see the payback,” says Brown, his intensity showing again. The firm’s track record is impressive. Brown has not only helped his clients get greatly reduced sentences, he has helped them integrate into society. Some have gone on to help keep kids off drugs or out of gangs. Brown says, “It works because kids at risk don’t want to hear about staying out of trouble from their family or teachers. If they hear it at all, they’re going to hear it from someone who’s been to the dark side and lived to tell about it.” That’s the kind of power that changes people’s destinies, Brown says. Brown even helped a self-proclaimed white supremacist “skinhead” give up those beliefs and lifestyle. “We helped raise money for him to get his tattoos removed,” Brown says. Their interventions go much farther than skin deep. They routinely assess their clients and determine the root of their issues. If it’s drugs, they get them set up in treatment. If it’s mental illness, they work to find the right professionals to help them work through their issues or find the right medications. Brown has gotten people jobs. He freely hands out his business cards with his cell phone number to people he talks with on the street who are in need. “I’m not looking for business,” he says. “If I can help them, maybe find them a job, maybe refer them to an agency for help, I’m going to do it. These are my people.” No Longer “Phoning It In” It borders on miraculous how Brown, after two decades of “phoning it in” as he puts it, found the way to blend his social mission with his practice of law. And his clients really connect with him. “I get along well with the clients because I am a lot like them. I don’t preach, and I don’t sugar coat either. I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t push religion on them. However I do believe because of my own faith, that we are all brothers and sisters. I know that God loves every one of them. If the clients are open to hearing those words, often my saying them is the first time they have heard anyone loves them, that anyone cares about what happens to them.” Brown lives his life believing we need to take care of each other, no matter who we are and no matter who is in need. Although Brown won’t defend a client twice, he doesn’t lose touch with them. His clients often feel the firm treated them like family, and families stick together. If they notice someone they defended is back-sliding the team often intervenes. It’s important because life transformation is not easy and it is never a straight path. “Plus, you don’t stop caring just because the case is over,” says Brown. “Typical clients, if there is such a thing, are people with low self-esteem, like I had. They don’t believe in themselves. They have flaws and they believe the lies they tell themselves. They have no purpose, and feel worthless, again, just like I did. My clients see themselves in me. I tell them my story and they bond with me because I have the same flaws they do. I am a watered-down version of the people I serve.” Brown is dead serious, intense as he says these words. As intense as Brown can be, he can also be a regular stand up comedian firing out one-liners at seemingly exactly the wrong times. Somehow he gets away with them, though. Maybe it’s because he’s good at what he does. Maybe it’s because it is part of his “flawed” behavior that forges the instant and lasting connections he has with clients. Whatever it is, it is a powerful side of Brown that is “reality TV ready.” What other law firm would have Sesame Street stuffed characters prominently sitting in the front conference room? “They’re the first thing people see when they walk into our offices, Brown says. “They completely shift people’s status quo. They let people know we’re different and that even our very heavy work can have a lighter side.” I’d Rather Defend Guilty People The firm’s practice areas include assault and battery, burglary, domestic violence, drug crimes, DUI charges, homicides, Internet crimes, juvenile crimes, kidnapping, robbery, and sexual offenses. Ninety-nine percent of the firm’s business is from people who have committed felonies and ninety-seven percent of those people are guilty of the crimes for which they are accused. Brown likes it that way. “I’d rather defend guilty people because they are often the ones that need the most help. They are the ones who are often the most forgotten, and we can make the biggest differences in their lives,” says Brown who sees his career as a calling and his practice of law as the conduit. The team at Guy Brown, PLLC, includes Brown, Burges McCowan, attorney; Benjamin Kuipers, attorney; James J. Hamm, J.D., private criminal justice consultant; Donna Leone Hamm, judge, (Ret.), private criminal justice consultant; Sheri Castillo, paralegal; Chuck Fraas, investigator; Rennee DeSaye, investigator; and Armando Castillo, personal assistant to Guy Brown. Brown makes clear that he and his staff are committed to seeing that each client achieves the most from his or her potential. “That’s why we don’t fold when the prosecution makes the first offer with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Sure it’d be easier. I could spend more time horseback riding, the one thing that truly relaxes me. But it’s not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s about the people we serve.” That one statement alone makes Guy Brown and his team…far from ordinary.
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