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      About the Author

Walt Lewis

In my youth and throughout law school, and even as a young prosecutor, I was the typical, predictable liberal. I was raised by my mother to believe in the essential goodness of mankind. I later came to learn that this idea of basic goodness was a core belief of the liberal community of which I grew up to be a proud member and advocate. If mankind is basically good, the reasoning goes, it is just a matter of learning how to rehabilitate criminals who repeatedly hurt other people so they can be restored to be the good people they naturally are.

In law school, I was one of the most politically liberal students in my 1964 graduating class. In the 1960s, my heroes were Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. I participated in a civil rights demonstration in the street in front of Los Angeles City Hall while holding hands singing “We Shall Overcome.” I joined the ACLU. My favorite United States Supreme Court justices were such outstanding liberals as Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William Brennan and William O. Douglas. Reading the opinions of these legal giants in law school was really exciting, especially their First Amendment decisions. Although my political philosophy has changed a good deal, with regard to First Amendment issues and my commitment to civil rights, my views have not changed.

I was taught to believe that criminals were mostly sick people with low self-esteem. After passing the bar exam, I decided I wanted to defend minorities, the poor and the disadvantaged. Not only was I vehemently against the death penalty, I was also against locking people up. I could not understand why any fair-minded, reasonable person would want to put someone in prison for years instead of rehabilitating him and enabling him to live in society as a good citizen. After all, we were dealing with people who were all fundamentally good. No matter that they had murdered, raped, robbed, and beaten innocent peopleoften repeatedly. It was, I thought, simply a matter of rehabilitating them.

My liberalism was so deeply rooted, it took me a long time to accept the fact that a great many of the violent and career criminals I prosecuted were not “sick,” did not suffer from low self-esteem, enjoyed committing their crimes and inflicting pain upon their victims, and felt no remorse for the pain they inflicted. Still, while on the road to that acceptance, I continued to make excuses for them. For example, I would assert the often-heard psychiatric-sounding line that “The outward bravado of these violent criminals was just a cover for a frightened, immature person who suffered mightily from low self-esteem.” Those whom I was taught to respect kept saying this so I thought it must be true. It was difficult for me to accept that there were people out there, and not just a few, who would constitute a continuing threat to others and who were beyond help. I know, it sounds presumptuous to proclaim any person is beyond help, but after 32 years as a deputy district attorney, I have no reluctance in saying it.

I thought the best way to learn the tricks of police and prosecutors was to become a prosecutor for a couple of years. Then I would take this knowledge into my private law practice to help the “real victims” of society, the poor and minorities and, yes, the criminals. So, in 1965, I joined the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.

After a few months, something started happening to my deeply entrenched, preconceived ideas about how the supposedly evil, racist criminal justice system worked. My experiences as a deputy city attorney were not what I had expected. Could it be, I wondered, that nearly everything I had seen on my favorite television shows in the 1950s and '60s, Perry Mason with Raymond Burr, and The Defenders, with E.G. Marshall, was false or misleading? Every week for nine years in the 1950s and '60s, the viewing public saw criminal defense attorney Perry Mason brilliantly defend an innocent man or woman wrongfully charged with murder. The prosecutor was always the villain trying to obstruct justice. The real murderer (never the defendant) always blurted out a confession from the witness stand or from the spectator section of the courtroom.

As a deputy city attorney, I prosecuted hundreds of drunk driving (DUI) cases and other misdemeanors. I began to understand that I was on the right side, if being on the side of the truth is being on the right side. I discovered that I liked being on the side of the truth. But as a deputy city attorney, I could only prosecute misdemeanors. I wanted a bigger challengeto prosecute felony cases. So, in 1968, I joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and became a deputy district attorney.

Although my parental and media-influenced liberal resolve continued to crumble, I had such an emotional attachment to my liberal philosophy that I remained a Democrat and voted consistently for Democrats for another twenty-seven yearsto the mid-1990s. One of the reasons for finally changing my party registration was the pervasive bias of the media, which I was able to recognize mainly because of my experiences as a deputy DA.

For a more extensive autobiography, see “More About the Author” at the end of the book.

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