July 21, 2019

The Life of the Criminal Defense Attorney in the Spotlight for Law Day

When Saskia Jordan’s daughter was in third grade, she drew a picture of her mom, showing what she does for a living. Jordan didn’t see it until she went into her daughter’s classroom.

“She had drawn a picture and said my mom helps people who are in trouble stay out of jail,” Jordan recalled. “I thought that’s pretty good. … It’s simplistic but it was accurate.”

Jordan is a former public defender who now represents clients in criminal cases, complex civil litigation, and regulatory matters as a shareholder at Haddon, Morgan and Foreman, P.C. She was the keynote speaker at the Denver Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division Law Day Luncheon on May 3.

However, she hadn’t planned to be speaking that day; her colleague, Pamela Robillard Mackey, had agreed to speak, but fittingly, she was awaiting the decision of a jury trial and was unable to attend.

“The last email I got was ‘jury still out, please go give my speech,’ at about 11 a.m. this morning,” Jordan said smiling.

This year’s Law Day theme is “The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston to Guantanamo.” That got Jordan thinking about her work as a criminal defense attorney and the most common question she gets about her line of work: how can you represent someone who’s committed a terrible crime?

“Still to this day I don’t like the question, I don’t really understand the question and I guess that’s because I don’t think it’s the right question,” Jordan said. “Shouldn’t the question be how does it feel to uphold the presumption of innocence, to require the prosecution to meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, to make sure that the defendant has a competent lawyer and a fair trial? That’s how I view what I do and I have always taken great pride in doing it. It has always been a very meaningful experience to me.”

Much of Jordan’s speech touched on the importance of juries and the role they play in the legal system.

“I have huge faith in juries,” Jordan said. “I think in more than nine out of 10 times, juries reach an accurate, correct, just verdict.

Jordan has had her share of high-profile criminal cases. She and Mackey represented Vincent Margera—better known as Don Vito, the uncle of skateboarder and reality TV star Bam Margera—when he was accused of sexual assault on a minor at a Colorado event.

“It can be daunting to try an unpopular case,” Jordan said. “Sometimes you feel it’s lonely and you feel outnumbered, but it’s also an amazing thing to sit there with you client and often their family… and to go through that experience.”

But in the end, Jordan said she is most comfortable in the role of John Adams, representing unpopular clients. Still, she admits that it being a criminal defender can be a tough job.

“I enjoy the practice of criminal law,” she said. “I also think it’s one of the most stressful things you can do because you hold people’s lives in your hands.”

But she said the work of the jury and their understanding of the role they play in understanding the prosecution’s burden of proof and the importance of being sure that an innocent person is not convicted is crucial.

“The important thing I think you learn when you’re a juror on a criminal case is that when you uphold those principles of law…you’re doing justice,” Jordan said.

Denver Public Schools students were also recognized for their participation in the DBA YLD essay contest. Emma Austin was awarded first place, Ella Kilroy received second, and Livvy Fore took third place.

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