Fighting for the Individual
David Rudolf is passionate about fighting for the individual against the power of the government. Rudolf founded his law firm in 1982 to represent the rights of people, and the firm has never wavered from that mission.
Here is how he has described the roots of his passion:
Shaping a Life
The Kent State Shootings
On May 4, 1970, I was a junior in college. I was in Boston visiting a friend when I heard that four Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War had been killed by the Ohio National Guard. I remember thinking: “The government is killing us for protesting.” It shook me to my core.
A tour of “The Tombs”
In August 1971, I started law school at NYU. As part of orientation, I visited the pretrial jail in Manhattan known as “The Tombs” with a small group of other law students. The prisoners were housed in open steel cages that towered over us as we entered on the first floor. As we walked through, they started banging on their cell bars and yelling.
It felt like a human zoo. The conditions were appalling. And these people had not been convicted of any crime. They were presumed innocent.
The “Saturday Night Massacre”
In October 1973, I was a third-year law student when Nixon fired Archibald Cox and abolished the Watergate Task Force. The Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General of the United States resigned in protest. I was studying law, while the rule of law was disintegrating before my eyes. Was a military takeover of the government next?
The Watergate Indictments
Five months later, the former Attorney General of the United States, John Mitchell, along with former White House chief of staff H.R. (Bob) Haldeman and former White House chief domestic adviser John D. Ehrlichman, were indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in the Watergate cover up. The government that had shot and killed innocent college students for protesting the Vietnam War was itself corrupt.
In July 1974, I was studying for the New York State bar exam when the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to recommend Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon. He resigned less than a month later. In September 1974, I began work as a public defender in the South Bronx. I would represent poor people facing the power of the government.
Four years and five events that profoundly shaped my values and my life.
After two years in the Bronx, I went to the Federal Defender office in Brooklyn, and tried a number of federal criminal cases (including a case arising out of the hijacking of an airliner by a group of Croatians seeking independence from Yugoslavia).
After several more years in the courtroom representing indigent defendants, I wanted to encourage new law students to represent poor people. In 1978, I was hired to start the Criminal Law Clinic at the University of North Carolina School of Law. A number of my students became public defenders themselves.
But I missed the courtroom, and I missed representing people myself. I missed the ability to give a voice to the accused, and I missed the responsibility of protecting critical Constitutional rights. So, in 1982 I started my own firm with a colleague from Duke Law School.
The firm has been in existence ever since – now 36 years. Although there has been evolution in terms of partners, firm names and the cases we tend to handle, one thing has remained constant – a commitment to individuals who need our help against the power of the government. Some of the cases that have meant the most to me personally over the decades are described below.
Although the work is consuming, I do find time for life outside the law. I ski as much as possible, I devour newspapers, and I love to travel with my wife and law partner, Sonya Pfeiffer. We share a passion not only for giving voice to the voiceless and fighting for fairness and equality, but also for finding unique ways of addressing the societal issues that motivate us and underlie many of the cases we handle.
Most recently, that has translated into us purchasing an art gallery in Charlotte – the Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. www.eldergalleryclt.com. We recognize that art can be an incredibly powerful way to address challenging issues and subjects in a non-threatening manner – as opposed to the adversarial setting we generally live in. Art can be a vehicle for constructive dialogue and an agent of change.
Sonya’s previous career as a journalist puts her in a unique position as the gallery’s Creative Director to design meaningful programming that weaves together contemporary social issues and fine art. Take a closer look at what we are doing at the gallery on Instagram at @elder_gallery_clt and @sonyapfeiffer. Or follow the gallery on Facebook: @eldergalleryclt.
I aim to live a life of meaning. I take risks where many others would not. I am motivated by doing what is right and what is fair. And I believe in following your passion – in work and in life. If you love what you do every day, you will never work a day in your life. And I haven’t. Follow my continuing journey on Twitter @DavidSRudolf.
225 East Worthington Ave
Charlotte, NC 28203
B.A. Summa Cum Laude
London School of Economics
New York University
J.D. Cum Laude
AREAS OF PRACTICE
College Disciplinary Proceedings
Complex Civil Litigation
White Collar Criminal Defense
U.S. District Court, WDNC
U.S. District Court, MDNC
U.S. District Court, EDNC
U.S. District Court, SDNY & EDNY
U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit
U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit
United States Supreme Court
American Bar Association
Association of Trial Lawyers of America
North Carolina Advocates for Justice
North Carolina Bar Association
American Board of Criminal Lawyers
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
AWARDS AND HONORS
Best Lawyers in America (1993 – Present)
Lawyer of the Year 2013 – White Collar Defense
Lawyer of the Year 2014 – Criminal Defense
Top 100 Lawyers in North Carolina
North Carolina Superlawyers
Top Lawyers in North Carolina
Business North Carolina
Why I Do What I Do
Although every case and client is important, over the past decade eight cases stand out as being particularly meaningful to me. They exemplify why I do what I do.
Alan Gell was incarcerated for 9 years, including 4 years on death row, after being convicted of the 1995 murder of Alan Ray Jenkins. He always maintained his innocence and in 2003 was granted a new trial based on newly discovered exculpatory evidence. The second jury acquitted him in 2004. Alan then sued the State Bureau of Investigation agents who had investigated the case for fabricating evidence against him, and for hiding the “newly discovered” exculpatory evidence from the prosecutors before his first trial. Alan ultimately received a settlement from the state of $3.9 million. He is now married, living in Greenville, helping to raise his wife’s four children from a prior marriage, and working as a warehouse manager.
In 2003, after a six-month trial, Michael Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his wife in 2001 and sentenced to life without parole. It was the most crushing experience of my legal career. I was convinced of his innocence and believed we had won the trial – before the verdict. The jurors indicated they had been swayed by evidence provided by the state’s blood spatter expert, Duane Deaver – evidence I knew was not supported by science. In 2011, I was finally able to prove to the trial judge that Deaver had lied on the witness stand about his alleged expert conclusions. After the judge found that Deaver had committed perjury, he granted Peterson a new trial and released him from prison. After five additional years of waiting, during which the state never set the case for a retrial, Michael Peterson entered an Alford plea in 2016 and was sentenced to time served. The 15 year-long case is chronicled from start to finish in the Netflix documentary “The Staircase.”
In 2011, federal agents seized more than $200,000 from a Vietnamese husband and wife who had come to the United States as refugees after the end of the Vietnam War. The Nguyens had worked multiple jobs, diligently saved their money, and raised four children, including one who was serving in the United States military. After they refused to consent to the forfeiture of their savings, they were charged in federal court with “structuring” their bank deposits and withdrawals to amounts less than $10,000 to avoid having their bank file a required report with the Government. We were able to convince the jury that they did this not to avoid any required filing, but simply because they were told by bank officers that it would be easier for them to do this. After a jury acquitted them, the government was forced to return their life savings.
Floyd Brown, a developmentally impaired man with an IQ of 65, was charged with a murder and imprisoned for 13 years in state mental hospitals based on a confession fabricated by two agents of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Floyd never had a trial, because his disabilities made him incompetent. After he was freed based on the outstanding work of North Carolina attorneys Joe Cheshire and Mike Klinkosum, we were able to settle his case with the State of North Carolina for $9.35 million. The money was put into a Special Needs Trust to take care of Floyd for the rest of his life. The only thing Floyd ever wanted was a BMW car. The Trustee bought one for his caretaker to use – and we have a great photo of Floyd smiling broadly in the front seat of his car.
Kenan Gay, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and a second-year law student was charged with second-degree murder arising out of an incident at a local bar in Charlotte. Protecting his then girlfriend Liz from an assault by a drunken patron, Kenan pushed the man out of the front door of the bar into the street, where he was hit and killed by a passing car. After a jury acquitted Kenan of all charges, he graduated from law school, passed the bar exam, married Liz, and took a job with a Charlotte company. He and Liz are now raising their first child.
In 2000, Robert Wilcoxson, a 19-year old black teenager from Detroit, was arrested for a murder in Buncombe County, a mostly white rural county in Western North Carolina. The police coerced false statements implicating him in the murder from several of his friends, and despite his innocence, he agreed to a plea bargain to avoid a possible death sentence. After Robert was unanimously exonerated by a three-judge panel of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, we were able to obtain a $5.125 million settlement from Buncombe County. Robert is now married, owns rental properties in Detroit, and is raising his children.
LaMonte Armstrong was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and spent 19 years in prison – without a single infraction – before being exonerated by DNA evidence. After he was released from prison, LaMonte got a job counseling at-risk youth with the prison system. Although he received a $6.4 million settlement from the City of Greensboro, he has continued to work in the same job, helping the same kids. He donated part of settlement to the Innocence Project at Duke Law School, which was responsible for his exoneration.
Tim Bridges was wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years for a rape he didn’t commit. After his release, due to the exceptional work of North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, we were able to prove that the police had withheld exculpatory evidence from the prosecutor. Tim received a Pardon of Innocence (and a personal apology) from the Governor of North Carolina, as well as a $9.5 million settlement from the City of Charlotte. He recently married his high school sweetheart, bought a small house at the beach, and started his own charter fishing business. He has a new life.
As many of you already know, Ron Guerette, my friend and long-time investigator, passed away in June 2018. In honor of his memory, I have set up a Memorial Fund in his name with the National Defender Investigator Association.
Speeches and Presentations
American Bar Association
American Psychological Association
Federal Bar Association
First Amendment Lawyers Association
National Institute for Trial Advocacy – Southeast Regional
National Forensic College
Duke University School of Law
University of North Carolina School of Law
Wake Forest University School of Law
Missouri Bar Association
North Carolina Bar Association
South Carolina Bar Association
Utah State Bar Association
Atlanta Bar Association “Superstar Seminar”
Mecklenburg County Bar Association
Criminal Defense and Trial Lawyer Organizations
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of Federal Defenders
California Public Defenders Association
Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
North Carolina Public Defender Conference
North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers
North Carolina Advocates for Justice
Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Utah Trial Lawyers Association
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association
Fourth Circuit Seminars
Law Education Institute, Inc.
Defending Us All – Why We Do What We Do
Ethical Limits on Lawyers Dealing with the Media
The Role of Plea Bargaining and Plea Agreements in the Criminal Justice System
The Causes of False Confessions & False Guilty Pleas
Using Psychologists to Attack the Admissibility & Reliability of Confessions
Attorney Client Privilege – Forcing Lawyers to Testify Against Their Clients
Grand Jury Practice: The Minefield of Representing Multiple Witnesses
Defense Experts: Evidentiary & Tactical Considerations for Direct Examination
Prosecution Experts – Cross-Examination Techniques
The Psychology of Jury Selection & Jury Decision Making
Painting the Picture of Innocence for the Jury
Using Demonstrative Evidence Effectively
Ethical Issues in Cross-Examining and Impeaching Witnesses
The Government v. Your Life Savings – Forfeiture Without Due process
Dealing Effectively with a Hostile, Indifferent, or Difficult Prosecutor
Contact for Speaking Engagements
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