In Memoriam: Richard Francis Koch
I'm not exaggerating when I say that defense attorneys are the unsung heroes of both democracy and freedom. Soldiers get parades, politicians get statues . . . but day in, day out, defense attorneys are in the trenches in the often-thankless job of trying to protect the Constitutional rights of individuals.
It's a job that is often heavily criticized, but it's crucial to our American system of justice. In spite of such criticisms there are still many thick-skinned individuals who rise to the challenge and become very good defense attorneys. Of course, as in any other profession, there are also bad defense attorneys, and naturally, a wide variety of attorneys in-between. Yesterday, one of the best attorneys passed away, and from this day on the defense bar will be forever mourning its loss. Richard Francis Koch passed away on March 10, 2016.
Koch was, without a doubt, a fantastic attorney. He helped found the National College for DUI Defense; he also helped found the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice (which is how I got the pleasure of meeting him for the first time). There are people all over Minnesota whose lives were touched by Koch as he dedicated over 40 years of his life to representing individuals who needed help in the legal system.
But Koch was known just as much for his amazing personality as he was for his legal skills. Good defense attorneys can be (and often are) annoying or grating people in private; bad defense attorneys can still be genuinely friendly and thoughtful people in private; the profession takes all types. But Koch was that ideal combination of both a great attorney and a fantastic person to speak with outside the courtroom. Over the decades, he was an inspiring mentor to many, many attorneys (attorneys who are now doing fantastic things for their clients) -- but Koch's personality was such that anyone who met him would see him as a role model regardless of how successful he was in a courtroom.
From here on out, the criminal justice system will be divided in two: those attorneys who were lucky enough to have known Koch . . . and those who entered the practice too late, and missed the opportunity to meet a once-in-a-lifetime type of attorney, the perfect mix of "zealous advocate" and "genuine smile that will light up a room." I didn't know Koch nearly as well as many of the more seasoned attorneys in Minnesota, and see now that I've forever lost the opportunity to fix that mistake; but today, I know that I'm going to miss his smiling face at Saturday MSCJ meetings, or running into him outside a courtroom, or just hearing his always-encouraging voice.
Whether you are an attorney or not, you could do far worse in your life than to try and emulate the man that Richard Francis Koch was, and always will be.