Fair trial: Hingeley gets defensive


It was Jim Hingeley's early career as a hardened criminal that made him so uniquely suited to head up the public defender's office in Charlottesville.

Just kidding. Call off the libel lawyers. Hingeley's legal reputation is so sterling that he was recently named a fellow of the Virginia Law Foundation. He's so idealistic, even after 13 years as a public defender, that he still cherishes the notion of public service. And the Harvard/UVA law grad is so altruistic, he's willingly given up the big bucks he could be making in private practice.

"I don't dwell on it," says Hingeley. "I know I could be making a lot more money, but I always recognize that I'm getting rewards for doing what I enjoy."

Hingeley enjoyed debating in high school and felt that ability could be put to use as a lawyer. Or to put it another way, he's argumentative.

After 15 year in private practice in Charlottesville, he realized he enjoyed criminal law and his public service as a court-appointed lawyer the most.

"Virginia pays the lowest amount to court-appointed lawyers in the United States," he says. Because Charlottesville didn't even have a public defender office when he got the urge in 1991, he left for Lynchburg.

By 1998, he was back in Charlottesville to open a much-more controversial public defender office here. Members of the community like Drewary Brown and Grace Tinsley asked Delegate Mitch Van Yahres to sponsor a bill for a public defender office, but during his first year as governor, former Charlottesvillian George Allen vetoed the bill. And he did again in 1995, 1996 and 1997, for reasons not explained.

"Public defender offices are rarely controversial and never had been before George Allen," says Hingeley. "Draw your own conclusions."

In 1998, Governor Jim Gilmore signed the bill to get Charlottesville its PD office.

Hingeley is zealous in debunking the stereotype that public defenders provide substandard defense.

"We do good work and we care about the people we represent," he says. "We try to get them a fair trial. Everyone needs an advocate whether they're guilty or innocent."

And certainly, the majority of the public defender's clients are guilty. "Nine out of ten are going to be convicted," he says. "They've never had anybody really care about them like in this office." Hingeley maintains that there's a lot to be gained in helping to show the system cares– and that fair trials are better for the community as well as the defendants.

The downside of the job? "You are going to have a lot of people who are convicted, and you see the repetitive nature of crime," he concedes. "No matter what you do, it's going to be the same over and over. It's probably much like it is for the police."

So were there any experiences in Hingeley's past as a lawbreaking youth that perhaps inclined him toward defendants?

"I managed to escape that." He clarifies: "I managed to escape apprehension."

Age: 57

Why here? Came to UVA Law School and stayed

Worst about living here? It's become unaffordable for many ordinary working people.

Favorite hangout? Mas. It's around the corner from my house.

Most overrated virtue? Obedience

People would be surprised to know: I taught high school for two years in rural West Virginia.

What would you change about yourself? I'd like to have musical talent, which I definitely don't, and learn to play an instrument.

Proudest accomplishment? Establishing an annual state bar award, named in honor of Oliver W. Hill, for law students performing outstanding pro bono community service.

People find most annoying about you: I repeat myself too much. Did I say I repeat myself?

Whom do you admire? Oliver W. Hill. A lifelong freedom fighter born in 1907, he is an authentic hero.

Favorite book? Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, by Jon Meachum

Subject that causes you to rant? Bad government

Biggest 21st-century thrill? DNA exonerations

Biggest 21st-century creep out? George W. Bush having the power to appoint lifetime federal judges

What do you drive? 2004 Prius

In your car CD player right now: Is It Rolling Bob? A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan

Next journey? Salt Lake City for the American Bar Association midwinter meeting

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Nearly losing my job after confronting former Virginia Chief Justice Harry Carrico about an administrative policy of the court. I missed the law school lecture on the art of gentle persuasion.

Regret: I never learned to ski, so I'll miss out on all the fun in Salt Lake City.

Favorite comfort food: Oyster stew

Always in your refrigerator: Assorted cheeses

Must-see TV: I don't have a TV.

Favorite cartoon: Calvin and Hobbes

Describe a perfect day. Walking my children to the neighborhood elementary school in the morning. Celebrating the end of the school year in the evening. Summer has arrived.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Being a judge

Who'd play you in the movie? Jack Nicholson

Most embarrassing moment? Can I take a bye on this one?

Best advice you ever got? You've got to break some eggs to make an omelet.

Favorite bumper sticker? Question authority.

Jim Hingeley