Ed Monahan Retires as Kentucky Public Advocate
Ed Monahan, Ketucky Public Advocate (retired)
Ed has always been there. I was a 3L at the University of Kentucky in the fall of 1976, being a “visiting student” from Washington University School of Law. I had decided to be a poverty lawyer while in VISTA in Minnesota several years before, and was looking forward to finding a legal services job. I had clerked for John Rosenberg in Prestonsburg, Kentucky the previous summer, and knew that was to be my course. But I was disappointed to learn that Lexington, where I lived and would remain due to my ex-wife’s being in med school at UK, had no legal services offices for me. Fortuitously, I found another outlet for my interest in poverty law.
I found instead that twenty-five miles away was the Office of Public Defender (now the Department of Public Advocacy), and I applied to be a law clerk there. I was assigned several briefs by Ed Monahan, who had started at OPD a year before. From that moment on, Ed was a constant in my forty-one years in the public defense community.
It is impossible to summarize in a blog all that Ed Monahan has accomplished as a public defender in Kentucky. For purposes of brevity, I can close my eyes and envision him in five different roles.
Ed led the effort to block the death penalty in Kentucky. I can close my eyes and can see in the winter of 1977 Ed in front of a small band of appellate lawyers in the small OPD office on Leawood Drive. A few days before, Kentucky had passed the death penalty statute in a special session following Gregg v. Georgia. Ed convened the small group of appellate attorneys who called themselves the Death Penalty Task Force and got to work on the issue. This group of attorneys under Ed’s leadership began to flesh out the new Kentucky statute. We developed a system of identifying the capital cases in the state and reached out to assist local assigned counsel attorneys then handling them. Within 2 years, Ed planned a training event at Shakertown, Kentucky, with Millard Farmer, Courtney Mullins, and others, who taught the new Kentucky capital lawyers about team defense. Those trainings continued every two to three years as long as Ed was the training director. Within another year, Ed edited the first of several Death Penalty Manuals, a long journal of the beginning interpretations of the death penalty regime in Kentucky. In the 1990’s, he worked with Father Pat Delahanty along with Sen. Gerald Neal and passed the first Racial Justice Act in the United States. After he became Kentucky Public Advocate, he worked to support the work of the ABA Assessment Team that found numerous flaws with Kentucky’s death penalty. Most recently, he co-edited a cutting-edge book entitled Tell the Clients’ Story that puts in one place the most recent thoughts on how to present mitigation in capital cases. Ed has had a profound impact on the Kentucky death penalty, and is a major reason we have had but 1 involuntary execution in this state since Gregg. That is a remarkable achievement for a Southern state that has featured strong support for the death penalty.
Ed is a remarkable litigator. I can close my eyes and recall spending the night on a couch at DPA in the old prison behind the Transportation building working on our brief in Eugene Gall, one of the first persons to receive a death penalty verdict at the trial level. We were two young lawyers, and didn’t really understand the meaning of “brief.” We would lose the Gall case in the Kentucky Supreme Court, and failed to have a cert petition granted. I then recall spending the night at his place above his dad’s corner grocery store as we litigated the Gall state post-conviction in Boone Circuit Court. We litigated vigorously over several days and many coneys with chili (a Cincinnati favorite), but lost again at all three levels. It would be 22 years after we first began that we finally prevailed in the 6th Circuit, enabling Eugene to spend the rest of his life in an Ohio prison. This was one of three death penalty cases in which Ed was successful at getting a death penalty verdict reversed. Another important case in which Ed was successful was Commonwealth v. Binion, which established that an indigent had a right to an independent expert in an insanity case in Kentucky. These are just a few examples of Ed’s influence as a litigator.
Ed put Kentucky on the map among training programs in the public defender world. I can close my eyes and see Ed running our first Litigation Institute at EKU in Richmond. He had just come back from the National College of Criminal Defense (now NCDC) then held in Houston, Texas. He had been profoundly influenced by his experienced there, and wanted DPA to do the same thing for Kentucky’s public defenders. This began a run of annual trial practice institutes that is conducted every fall in Kentucky, which is now held at the Kentucky Leadership Center in Faubush, Kentucky. Every year he would attract trainers from around the country to come to the end of the road that is Faubush to expose our defenders to cutting-edge training. When I became Public Advocate, I often referred to Faubush as the “soul” of DPA, because every trial lawyer hired had to go through that training program. As Kentucky Training Director, he edited The Advocate for three decades and turned it into a first-class criminal justice journal. This journal went out to all public defenders as well as legislators and judges. When Ed became the Deputy Public Advocate in 1996, he recruited Jeff Sherr to work with him in the education program and to mentor him along the way. Soon, Jeff was the Kentucky Training Director, and together they made Kentucky DPA among the best training program in the nation among public defenders. He hasn’t stopped educating. Since NAPD began in January 2014, Ed has led the NAPD Education Committee.
Ed became an early leadership educator. Ed always looked to use his position as training director to reform other areas of public defense. He soon began to think of how he could improve leadership in DPA. He looked to a professor at Georgetown College, Dr. Alma Hall, and became her student. He soon began to hold regular leadership training for Kentucky public defender managers and supervisors. As Public Advocate, he has been leading quarterly leadership training along with Jeff Sherr.
His leadership as Public Advocate has been astonishing. When Ed became Public Advocate in 2008, he had already accomplished a full career’s worth. In his nine years as Public Advocate, he has been at the top of his game. Among his accomplishments over these years, he continued to advance the full-time system, with a vision of offices in each of Kentucky’s 56 judicial districts. He continued and supported excellence in training and education. The social work program that he advocated for at every General Assembly budget session expanded exponentially during his tenure, growing from 5 social workers in 2008 to 45 today. His efforts received three national awards: the National Criminal Justice Association 2011 outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award; the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Top 25 Innovation in Government Award in 2013; and the ABA’s Section of State and local Government Law 2017 Jefferson Fordham Society Accomplishment Award. Ed has become a national leader in pretrial release, which won an award for DPA from the National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies. He took over DPA in September 2008, right before the Great Recession, and weathered a bad fiscal situation throughout his tenure, and he advocated strongly for exemptions from the draconian budget cuts experienced by other state agencies. His nine years as Public Advocate was absolutely scandal free. Finally, he pressed for criminal justice reform every step of the way, becoming a prophet against the mass incarceration that has so destroyed our neighborhoods, the lives of our citizens, not to mention blowing a hole in our budget.
Ed Monahan is a good, wise man of the highest character. This comes from David Brooks’ The Road to Character. I can think of nothing that so summarizes who Ed Monahan is in his 66th year.
“Occasionally, even today, you come across certain people who seem to possess an impressive inner cohesion. They are not leading fragmented, scattershot lives. They have achieved inner integration. They are calm, settled, and rooted. They are not blown off course by storms. They don’t crumble in adversity. Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable. Their virtues are not the blooming virtues you see in smart college students; they are the ripening virtues you see in people who have lived a little and have learned from joy and pain.
Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline.
They radiate a sort of moral joy. They answer softly when challenged harshly. They are silent when unfairly abused. They are dignified when others try to humiliate them, restrained when others try to provoke them. But they get things done. They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting the groceries. They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. They just seem delighted by the flawed people around them. They just recognize what needs doing and they do it….
They have not led lives of conflict-free tranquility, but have struggled toward maturity. They have gone some way toward solving life’s essential problem, which is, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it, ‘the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.’
These are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth. In these people, at the end of this struggle, the climb to success has surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul.”
Ed Monahan is not finished. Ed has now retired. However, he is committed to using his experience to help advance the cause of public defense reform. NAPD was fortunate that Ed chose to establish NAPD along with Tim Young and Mark Stephens. We are fortunate now that he is available to continue his lifetime’s work. Godspeed, my friend.