Dan Baldwin 2014-03-15 00:33:52
Frank Mascagni, III of Mascagni Law Office in Louisville says his job is one of creation – the building or crafting of a defense for his client. “I’m a sculptor. I’m an architect. My job is to ensure that the rules of evidence are followed and if there are any violations of constitutional law, case law, or criminal rules of evidence, to bring it to the courts attention and get the evidence suppressed or excluded, or charges dismissed. Even when you have a very bad case with a non-sympathetic client, my job is to make sure a client gets a fair trial.” Mascagni defines a boutique law office as a small, exclusive law office that practices a limited specialty. His office’s practice area is criminal defense in state and federal court. He says the practice of criminal law is like no other. “My whole profession is built around deception, innuendo, inferences and lies. By that I mean this: Some jurors lie and say they’ll give you a fair trial and not be biased by race or drugs or other factors. Some judges say they’re going to give you a fair trial and make hard decisions when it’s so much easier to defer to a jury. Some prosecutors lie when seeking a conviction. Some policemen lie because they’re tired of criminals beating the system on a technicality. Some defendants lie because they don’t want to go to jail. Some defense witnesses lie because they love their loved ones. Some prosecution witnesses lie. Some defense attorneys lie. Can you think of any other profession where that is true?” Mascagni says no one other than the defendant in a criminal defense law case understands the pressures on a criminal defense trial attorney. “For example, in a death penalty case, if I’m not at the top of my game and at my best, and challenge evidence, and do a good job, the result could be fatal. My client can receive the penalty of death. There is no greater pressure in the field of law.” “I’m A Lone Wolf.” Mascagni graduated from St. Joseph High School in Greenville, MS in 1967, from Christian Brothers College in Memphis, TN in 1972 and he earned his J.D. from the University of Louisville Law School in 1976. He was admitted to the State Bar of Kentucky in 1977. Mascagni has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell (a national recognition), and is admitted in the federal courts of the Western District of Kentucky, Eastern District of Kentucky, S.D. of Indiana and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He says, “When I went into private practice and I opened my own office, I just hung out the shingle and hoped I wouldn’t starve to death.” As the architect of his career, Mascagni has built a substantial track record since those early days. Among other achievements, he was selected as a Top Lawyer 2008-2013 by Louisville Magazine, selected for inclusion in Kentucky Super-lawyers 2008-2014, and inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America in criminal defense. After graduation, he joined the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Attorney’s Office practicing criminal law and trying cases. When he had the opportunity to go into private practice, he chose to stay within that practice area. “I’m not entirely sure that I picked it (criminal defense) so much as it picked me. I just stayed with the area of law I knew and people said I was good in,” he says. The office has four lawyers and two secretaries. “We’re a small operation. All the lawyers concentrate on criminal defense work. My oldest son, Christian, has been with me the longest. He started working with me about seven years ago,” Mascagni says. Leslie Smith joined the office in 2013. Mascagni Law Office representation has run the gamut of cases – everything from speeding tickets or petty theft to assault, homicide, and trafficking in drugs. He has tried two death penalty cases in the past decade. Mascagni doesn’t have any plans for major expansion, preferring close contact with his clients to the lack of intimacy often found in large firms. “I like it small. I don’t want to be held accountable to some higher associate. I’m going to do what I think is the right protocol. I’m a lone wolf. Most criminal defense lawyers are lone wolf people. We don’t travel well in packs. We do better in fighting our adversaries the way our instincts tell us to do. It’s primal.” “I’m Old School.” Mascagni says, “Irrespective of the result - of course, you always want a good result - I take pride in doing a good job, being prepared, that I gave all I had and did all I could in my human power to get my clients a fair trial. I’m old school. Hard work and preparation wins cases.” He says that criminal defense is not a career for the weak at heart. “As a trial lawyer, I take the fate of my clients lives in my hands and accept the challenge to defend them knowing that if I’m not at the top of my game something dastardly can happen to my client. I tell the students I teach in law school that I have to make a decision between accepting a plea of five to ten years or going to trial in less time than a shopper takes to pick a bunch of bananas. It’s highly pressured – hundreds if not thousands of decisions to be made every day in an eight hour jury trial. It’s about the same as a surgeon who’s putting a patient’s life in his hands.” Mascagni says the biggest challenge he faces is trying to convince a prosecutor or judge to insure that his client is not only esoterically entitled to a fair trial, but in fact gets a fair trial even though politically it might be a difficult thing to do - even when it’s the right thing to do. “That means you have to be creative in your lawyering. You have to be well-researched, know your law, be a good orator and you have to give the judge a real good reason why your position on a particular issue is the correct one and then to have the political courage to do it if it’s not popular. That’s the challenge”. He says, “All I want is a fair trial. I want a judge who knows the law, who knows the rules of evidence and is going to make sure my client gets a fair trial and that the Constitution is what it says it is.” A criminal defense attorney must be willing to challenge prosecutors and judges and policemen and have to have the strength, commitment and passion to try a difficult case in view of difficult facts because every man and woman is entitled to a fair trial regardless of their income, gender, race, or crime charged, he says. “My job is to make sure that everybody who hires me gets a fair trial and that I won’t let them down.” “I Don’t Vacation Very Well.” Mascagni is a family man. He and his wife Theresa have four children – three lawyers and a doctor. Christian is the oldest. Brooke is a college professor in Texas with a PhD. Coury (Washington D.C.) and Evan (San Francisco, CA) are lawyers. He has an interest in Italian opera, but his hobby and chief interest is his work. “My stamp collecting is going to work. My going down to the Bahamas for two weeks is going to work. I believe that a man is judged by his work product and his work ethic. If I’m taking time off, I’m not a man, so I don’t vacation very well. As Andrew Jackson said, ‘I was born for the storm, and a calm does not suit me.’” Mascagni is active in the community. Among his volunteer work is his time invested with Citizens for Better Judges, teaching at law school, making presentations at legal seminars, writing legal articles for publication, and as officer in the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He also donates time representing people through the public defenders office. “When your barn burns down I’m going to come over there and help you build your barn because I hope you’ll come help me when the wind blows mine down. I feel an obligation to give back. I grew up on a dairy farm in the Mississippi Delta in the 40’s and 50’s, the grandson of two Italian immigrants. I have been very fortunate. I have a job I still love after 36 years as a trial lawyer.”
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