John McMahon, Chief Trial Attorney at the Newark office of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender is retiring after 27 years. P.D.s have a wholly undeserved bad name. I tried cases part-time for the P.D. in Newark for four years. Lawyers like McMahon, his father, Dale Jones, Cathy Waldor, Jerry Soffer, Ollis Douglas, Michael Marucci, Verna Leath, and Denise Cobham were among the best lawyers I met in my thirty year career practicing law in the county. The Public Defender’s office participated in every capital case in new Jersey from restoration in 1982 to repeal in 2017. 225 trials, 60 death sentences, no executions. All this work by dedicated public servants who are not lionized on TV, but who see the humanity in their clients and uphold the highest standards of our profession.
In the photo above he is comparing a picture of his client to the police artist’s drawing of the assailant. I tried enough “eyewitness ID” cases to know that eyewitness ID’s are highly unreliable.- gwc
In the public defender’s office in Newark, there are two storage closets filled with clothes.
In one, is a rack of women’s outfits and shelves of neatly arranged men’s and women’s shoes. In the other, are the men’s clothes. The clothes are modest. Presentable. You might say bland. Certainly nothing that calls for attention.
John McMahon calls it “the haberdashery.” It’s where the public defenders go to dress their clients for courtroom appearances in front of judges, juries and news cameras.
Nothing says guilty like a department of corrections jumpsuit. Better to have the defendant in civilian clothes, dressed like the jury of their peers.
“It makes a difference,” McMahon said during an interview at his office, which is mostly empty now. Gone are the newspaper clips about his biggest cases, and the pictures of his wife and children. Also gone are the stacks of brown accordion folders, stuffed with volumes of case information for his final few clients.
McMahon, 55, is retiring after 27 years in the Essex County branch of the state public defender’s office, to enter private practice.
And while he reflected on some of his most gratifying legal maneuvers, at the heart of what he did was told through the story of the clothing. ***