It Mattered More Than the Money

Article excerpt

Byline: MARK WOODS

Ask Alan Chipperfield how he ended up in the Public Defender's Office -and why he stayed there - and he gives several reasons, eventually tossing out an interesting analogy.

"I like the way I feel about myself when I'm working here," he said. "It's kind of like driving a Volkswagen Beetle."

He drove a Beetle for 12 years. And he has been in the Public Defender's Office for 26 years - a ride that will end soon.

Chipperfield, 58, was one of the 10 lawyers Public Defender-elect Matthew Shirk decided to - pick your description - fire, not retain, whatever. The bottom line is that Chipperfield, head of homicide, found out via an e-mail that he won't have that job in January.

Some believe it's politics. Shirk has insisted the reason for the change is money. Chipperfield's salary is $134,000. And while that sounds good to most of us, one thing is certain: Chipperfield could have made more in the private sector.

He isn't just a good lawyer. Some will tell you he's one of the best in town, respected by people in the legal community and beyond.

Hank Coxe, former president of The Florida Bar, puts it this way: "He is what makes other people proud of being lawyers. They can point to an Alan Chipperfield."

With that in mind, I wanted to know why. Not just why he and others were fired. Why did they want to do this job in the first place? Why did they keep doing it? And, to play devil's advocate, why should we care if bad guys get good lawyers?

Chipperfield has heard variations of that last question asked countless times. To answer, he talks about our system of justice:

"It's not a system of justice by committee, where the smartest people get together and decide what should happen. …