Author Topic: Legal Eagle William 'Bill' Sheppard Dies  (Read 585 times)


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Legal Eagle William 'Bill' Sheppard Dies
« on: April 11, 2022, 01:05:39 PM »
A great loss to those who truly care about civil rights and protecting the under-represented and oppressed segments of our society.  Bill Sheppard, as a highly principled lawyer, took the cases no other attorney in Jax had the fortitude to take and was a state and national leader in sticking up for the civil rights afforded by the Constitution.  Unfortunately, not sure we have anyone in this City to replace him.

Civil rights attorney, who helped form first racially integrated law firm in Florida, dies at 80

"He wasn't a 'lawyer.' He was a man who was willing to give everything he had to the people and causes he loved."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville civil rights attorney William 'Bill' Sheppard died at 80-years-old on Saturday afternoon after an extended illness.

Sheppard left a mark on both Jacksonville and Florida as a whole during his time as a giant in the legal community.

"He wasn't a "lawyer." He was a man who was willing to give everything he had to the people and causes he loved. He never gave a damn about material things or a person's social status. Those false trappings were of no value to him," his wife and legal partner, Betsy White, wrote on Facebook.

With law partner Henry Lee Adams Jr., Sheppard, Fletcher, Hand & Adams. became the first racially integrated law firm in Florida. Adams went on to become the first Black judge on the 4th Judicial Circuit and the first Black federal judge in the Middle District of Florida, as reported by The Tributary.

Sheppard is also the reason same-sex marriage is legal in Florida. His lawsuit lead to the legalization of gay marriage in the state. Jim Brenner and Chuck Jones, two men who were married in Canada but who's union was not recognized in Florida, came to Sheppard and White with hopes of challenging the state. The couple was hoping to file a federal lawsuit against the state of Florida to undo the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, as reported by the News Service of Florida.  The suit lead to U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruling that Florida's gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional.

Sheppard litigated statewide jail and prison conditions on inmates behalf, leading to major improvements to care for those in custody, as recorded in his bio on his law firm's website. 

The civil rights attorney's lawsuits lead to the construction of a less crowded county jail as well as the federal takeover of state prisons, The Tributary reported.

"The Constitution was his Bible and the search for justice was his life's mission," White wrote of her husband.

Before his time as a fierce attorney, Sheppard served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Korea. He then graduated from the University of Florida College of Law.

Sheppard received a long list of  honors during his time practicing law, including the Henry Lee Adams Jr. Diversity Trailblazer Award from the Jacksonville Bar Association Diversity Committee, which was named after his former law partner. He was also awarded the Robert J. Beckham Equal Justice Award from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, amongst many more. Sheppard was recognized by Best Lawyers in America five times over the years.

Sheppard is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

White wrote in her tribute to her husband, "Before Bill died, I promised him I would be strong and thoughtful. That is a promise I intend to keep. It is the least I can do for the man I love more than all the stars in the sky."


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Re: Legal Eagle William 'Bill' Sheppard Dies
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2022, 01:12:14 PM »
More coverage:

‘Both icon and iconoclast’ attorney William ‘Bill’ Sheppard dies

He built a reputation as a champion of civil rights over his more than five decade legal career.

Jacksonville attorney William “Bill” Sheppard died at home April 9 at age 80 after a long illness.

A partner at Sheppard, White, Kachergus, DeMaggio & Wilkison, Sheppard built a reputation as a champion of civil rights over his legal career that spanned more than 50 years.

Betsy White, Sheppard’s wife and law partner, posted on Facebook on April 10:

“Those of you who were fortunate to have known Bill, also know he lived in excruciating pain for last last ten years – a pain that would have forced most people to bed. Instead, he used that pain to understand the pain of others, clients included, and it made him a better man.

“He never gave a damn about material things or a person’s social status. Those false trappings were of no value to him. Instead, the Constitution was his Bible, and the search for justice was his life’s mission.”

Sheppard’s advocacy in courts from Duval County to the Supreme Court of Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court led to prison reform, protection of civil rights of incarcerated people, legalization of same-sex marriage in Florida and forced the city to end discrimination against black firefighters in the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

The law firm’s website states:

“Both icon and iconoclast, Mr. Sheppard is known for representing the famous, the infamous, and the unknown alike. Throughout his career, he has fought at every level of the judicial system for individuals’ protections against violations of their rights, whether by searches, internet or other electronic surveillance, restrictions on freedoms of speech and religion, or violations of the constitutional rights of the incarcerated and accused.”

A graduate of Florida State University, Sheppard was an officer in the U.S. Army in Korea. After military service, he graduated from law school at the University of Florida and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1968.

Sheppard was appointed to the Florida Governor’s Advisory Committee on Corrections, the federal Middle District of Florida Civil Justice Reform Act Commission and a term as chair of the 4th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.

He received many awards during his career, including the Nelson Poynter Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2000.

In 2004, Sheppard received the Florida Bar Foundation Medal of Honor in 2004, the highest honor bestowed upon a lawyer by the legal profession in Florida.

He was awarded the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Award in 1985, which is given annually by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court to the attorney in Florida who has given the most outstanding pro bono service; the Selig I. Goldin Memorial Award in 1993, which is presented annually by the Criminal Law Section of The Florida Bar for making a significant contribution to the state’s criminal justice system; and the Steven M. Goldstein Criminal Justice Award in 2001, the highest honor awarded by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The Jacksonville Bar Association presented Sheppard the Henry Lee Adams Jr. Diversity Trailblazer Award in 2015, named after Sheppard’s former partner in the first racially integrated law firm in Florida.

Sheppard also received the Robert J. Beckham Equal Justice Award from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid in 2016.

The memorial service for Sheppard is 11 a.m. April 14 at St. Johns Cathedral, 256 E. Church St., Downtown.


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Re: Legal Eagle William 'Bill' Sheppard Dies
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2022, 09:59:01 PM »
One other legal eagle in Jax that stands above many is Sam Jacobson (now 86 years old) who successfully won a nationally recognized landmark case before the Supreme Court throwing out Jacksonville's and every other jurisdiction's vagrancy laws 50 years ago.

This intriguing recap from Mark Woods of the story is captivating and worth reading today in light of all the efforts to continue passing similarly vague and discretionary "laws" to oppress those who are already disadvantaged or "different."

Mark Woods: Fifty years ago, Jacksonville lawyer fought city — and won landmark Supreme Court case

....It’s the story of a case about Jacksonville’s vagrancy ordinance and much more. It involved a future mayor, Ed Austin, arguing for the city in front of the Supreme Court. When the city lost — when the court unanimously overturned the law — it was big news.

The New York Times put the ruling atop its front page the next morning. A headline said: “Jacksonville Ordinance Held Too Vague — Broad Ruling Expected to Void Many Similar Statutes Across the Nation.”

Justice William O. Douglas wrote the opinion. It was one of more than 1,000 opinions he wrote in the longest tenure in Supreme Court history. But when he died, and the memorial followed his written requests, the opinion cited at his service — along with the singing of “This Land is Your Land” — was the one he wrote about Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville.

It’s a case that is taught in law school classes. It not only instantly changed laws in 1972, it continues to affect lawmaking in 2022.

But some constitutional experts say it remains a somewhat overlooked case in Supreme Court history.

Risa Goluboff, dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, began her 2016 book, “Vagrant Nation,” with two stories: In 1949 Los Angeles, a police officer arresting Isidore Edelman as he spoke from a park bench; and 20 years later a Jacksonville officer arresting 23-year-old Margaret “Lorraine” Papachristou while she was out for a night on the town.

The story of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville certainly could start there — in 1969 Jacksonville, a car with two Black men and two white women, all four of them arrested, charged with vagrancy, given the maximum allowable bail by a judge, facing the possibility of 10 days in jail.

But perhaps it really should start with a lawyer they only met briefly: Sam Jacobson....

....When Jacobson began practicing law in Jacksonville — going into private practice in 1965, after working in the U.S. Attorney’s office — he ended up in Municipal Court and noticed how many people were there after being arrested for vagrancy charges.

They were brought from a small room into Judge John Santora Jr.’s courtroom, where the judge would decide whether they were guilty or innocent. And, Jacobson says, Santora almost always found them guilty, typically giving a sentence of 10 days in jail....

....Goluboff, the UVA law school dean and author of “Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s,” says that in the two decades before Papachristou, lawyers all across the country were trying to take vagrancy laws to the Supreme Court.

“One of the things that Sam did that was really smart was to create a case that had multiple petitioners who were differently situated, and were arrested for vagrancy for very different kinds of things,” she said. “He had people who were kind of presumptively thought to be criminals but had not yet engaged in any criminal behavior.”

With that combination of cases, he won the race to the Supreme Court....

.....Jacobson headed to Washington. Dec. 8, 1971, was a grey, drizzly day in the nation’s capital. But when the 35-year-old lawyer stepped into the Supreme Court — well, thanks to the technology available 50 years later, you can sit in front of a computer in Jacksonville, go to a website and listen to what happened then.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger begins by saying: “We will hear arguments next in Number 5030, Papachristou against Jacksonville … Mr. Jacobson, you may proceed.”

During the first 23 minutes, Jacobson presents his case and the justices — mainly Burger, but also occasionally Thurgood Marshall — ask dozens of questions....

....Jacobson returned to Jacksonville. He turned 36. And 10 weeks after oral arguments, on Feb. 24, 1972, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling (a 7-0 vote, with two justices not taking part in the consideration or decision of the case).

It said: “The Jacksonville vagrancy ordinance, under which petitioners were convicted, is void for vagueness, in that it ‘fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute,’ it encourages arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions, it makes criminal activities that, by modern standards, are normally innocent, and it places almost unfettered discretion in the hands of the police.”

The opinion concluded: "The Jacksonville ordinance cannot be squared with our constitutional standards, and is plainly unconstitutional.".....

.....Jacobson is 86 now, still practicing out of the Bledsoe, Jacobson & Wright offices off Atlantic Boulevard. He has argued one case in front of the Supreme Court in his life. This, of course, is one more than most lawyers ever do. And he not only can claim to be 1-0, that one victory was a significant and enduring one.

“I'm glad to know that it’s still getting interest,” he said recently. “Because it's as valid as it ever was.”

If anything, it seemed to become even more valid as time passed.

In the 1990s, two decades after the Supreme Court ruling, the Jacksonville judge who had been involved in the Papachristou case from the start — who, to Jacobson, seemed “deeply offended” in 1969 by two white women being out with two Black men — did an interview that led to Jacksonville making national news again.

Judge Santora, at this point chief circuit judge, was removed from his post by the Florida Supreme Court after he said, among other things, that school desegregation had been a mistake; that Blacks couldn't cope with integration "because they had a chip on their shoulder”; and that ″girls are wearing pantyhose and miniskirts that would make a guy my age chase them down the hallway” and “the Blacks are playing with those white girls, with the white girls’ consent.″....

.....And the questions about unequal use of laws continue to appear all across America.

We saw that in Jacksonville when a video went viral of a Jacksonville police officer stopping a 21-year-old Black pedestrian for jaywalking, citing him for not carrying an ID while walking. The incident, which led to the Times-Union/Pro Publica series “Walking While Black,” had echoes of one of Jacobson’s petitioners, Jimmy Lee Smith, being arrested while walking in downtown Jacksonville without identification.....

.....For centuries, Goluboff says, vagrancy laws were “written and used as an infinitely flexible license to arrest.” And although such laws were being chipped away at for decades, it wasn’t until a Jacksonville lawyer took a case to the Supreme Court that they became unconstitutional in America.

Several Supreme Court generations later, they remain unconstitutional.

This is the lasting impact of Sam Jacobson’s quixotic quest.

But as vagrancy laws have faded from public memory, to a certain degree so has the case that erased them. So 50 years later, it’s worth retelling the story of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville. And not just in law school classrooms and legal history books. In the city of Jacksonville.