Debbie Wyatt, 52
Debbie Wyatt remembers being fascinated reading the 1970 book Tales of Hoffman, about the Chicago Seven trial. Her fascination carried over. Now as an activist lawyer, she gets involved in environmental fights, and she likes the way civil rights and criminal law focus on the Constitution.
With one exception, Wyatt has never felt her gender to be an obstacle in her practice of law, particularly in front of juries. But she has felt it a handicap with certain judges. At law school, one Virginia Supreme Court justice told Wyatt that while he thought she was qualified for a law clerk position, he needed a man because it involved carrying a lot of books and driving.
Today, Wyatt sees a very strong good-ole-boy network alive and kicking in Virginia. “When you play golf with the commonwealth’s attorney, can you take the gloves off in court?” she asks.
Wyatt started her own practice in 1993, and the week she spoke with The Hook was busier than usual. She spent one day taking depositions for a suit against Farmington Country Club. She was in Orange County until 10pm at a hearing for a mining company’s permit. She spent one day preparing for a 4pm hearing that wasn’t heard until 7, and she didn’t get out until 9. And she was scrambling to get ready for a trial the following week.
“This kind of schedule I don’t like,” she says. “It’s interesting only if I have enough time to focus.”
Juggling her family and work has been the hardest part of the job for Wyatt. “I have two boys growing up,” she says. “I have some resentment that I’m not around. There are times I’m conflicted.”
But the perks? “Making a difference in a small way.”