A Tribute to Norm
Norman Lefstein, Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indianapolis, Indiana, died in Indianapolis, Indiana Thursday morning, August 28. Professor Lefstein had been suffering from glioblastoma. He was 82 years old. As recently as this winter, he was still playing singles tennis.
Norm Lefstein had a long and illustrious career, much of it working with the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (ABA/SCLAID) to reform our nation’s broken criminal justice system.
His work with ABA/SCLAID included prodigious efforts to persuade the ABA to issue the 2002 ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense System, the 2006 ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility (Formal Opinion 06-441) and the ABA’s 2009 Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads, for which he was the Reporter.
Norm was also a Special Advisor to the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD), a national organization with over 20,000 public defense professionals. In the words of Ernie Lewis, Executive Director of the NAPD, “Norm helped NAPD get established in its early days and was a wise advisor to us. He helped craft our Foundational Principles. A light in our community has gone out, but his legacy will last for many, many years.”
Norm’s life work has become the essential infrastructure for all of our work to reform our nation’s broken indigent defense system. For this reason, on June 3, 2019 the NAPD inducted Norm into the NAPD FUND FOR JUSTICE PUBLIC DEFENSE HALL OF FAME, describing him as “the architect of the modern indigent defense reform movement.”
Norm’s work for the ABA was both broad and deep, covering almost five decades. During that time, he served as a Special Advisor to ABA/SCLAID, a Chair of its Indigent Defense Advisory Group (IDAG), a Chair of the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, a Chair of the ABA Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and a Reporter for the ABA Standing Committee on Association Standards for Criminal Justice. Norm began his career at the legendary District of Columbia Public Defender Services, and eventually served as its Director. He was also an Assistant U.S. Attorney and a renowned law school professor. He testified as an expert witness for scores of public defenders all over the country for decades, decrying the plague of excessive public defender caseloads.
His publications were voluminous. He was most proud of his authorship of the 2011 ABA publication, “Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense,” followed by his 2012 “Executive Summary and Recommendations” for that book, also published by the ABA. All of us who knew him heard him say at one time or another, in answer to our questions, “Read my book!” with citation to the exact page of the book.
Norman Lefstein won his last case. In an effort that spanned almost the last six years of his life, he persuaded the 2019 ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility to issue Formal Opinion 486 on Obligations of Prosecutors in Negotiating Plea Bargains for Misdemeanor Offenses, issued on May 9, 2019.
In February, 2019, a mere six months before his passing, despite feeling the early symptoms of his last illness, Norm flew to Nevada to make one final presentation to the Committee, urging them to issue an opinion dealing with the serious problems that have attended the widespread practice of uncounseled pleas, especially in our misdemeanor courts.
A few days after the issuance of the Opinion, his family stood around his bed and read him the primary conclusion of the Opinion: “[Under the ABA’s Model Rules], prosecutors must make reasonable efforts to assure that unrepresented accused persons are informed of the right to counsel and the process for securing counsel, and must avoid conduct that interferes with that process.”
He was indefatigable. He was passionate. He was always a gentleman. If he criticized someone’s position or work product, he did it in a way that was gentle, firm and invariably persuasive, or at least instructive. He was a great editor, and he gave his editorial suggestions to everyone and anyone who sent anything to him for that purpose. He was meticulously critical with his own writing.
He was courageous. He was not afraid to take a position that was not shared by his most ardent followers. He will be deeply missed by all who knew, loved and admired him.