A Mediocre Criminal But An Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer

A Mediocre Criminal, but an Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer

By ADAM LIPTAK Published: New York Times February 9, 2010

While in prison, a former bank robber transformed himself into an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner….

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars: an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner….

He prepared his first petition for certiorari a request that the Supreme Court hear a case for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002. Since Mr. Hopwood was not a lawyer, the only name on the brief was that of the other prisoner, John Fellers …

Mr. Hopwood was released from prison in the fall of 2008. Mr. Fellers was out by then, and he owned a thriving car dealership in Lincoln. …

Here, Mr. Fellers said, presenting his jailhouse lawyer with a 1989 Mercedes in pristine condition. Thank you for getting me back to my daughter….

Mr. Hopwood now works for a leading printer of Supreme Court briefs, Cockle Printing in Omaha.


For those who want to read further about this topic, Numia Abu-Jamal has written a book, Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners in the USA which, according to Kirkus Reviews provides a series of stories based “on correspondence with two-dozen jailhouse lawyers around the country, Abu-Jamal discusses the lives and work of men and women-some educated, others barely able to read and write-who do legal research, file grievances and litigate cases, often earning reputations as troublemakers and dealt with accordingly by prison authorities. Thousands of such lawyers now work among the 2.3 million inmates of America’s prison system, ‘to help, to uplift, and even to free others’ “

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