Lessons Learned From Legendary Georgia Attorney Herb Shafer

Posted by Richard Lawson | Feb 29, 2016 | 12 Comments

Recently, I ran into Ann Shafer, ex-wife of legendary Georgia attorney Herb Shafer.  Although divorced, Ann always remained close to Herb.  Herb passed away in 2014 at age 93 but practiced law until age 92.  He defended the Constitution of the United States unlike any other lawyer.  He once said, "I adore the Constitution … and anyone who defies it is ipso facto my enemy."  Unsurprisingly, Herb had many enemies in our judiciary and district attorney's offices.

Herb Shafer had escaped Poland before the Nazis rolled in.  He came back to fight in WWII for his adopted country, the United States.  His bold personality and love of freedom were formed as a young man.

He once said to a prosecutor, "I've shot better men than you,” and made it clear that his job was to challenge and defy prosecutors and judges who violated the rights of the accused.

None of the Georgia defense bar will ever forget his contempt hearing where he called a Douglas County Superior Court judge and the prosecutor assigned to his courtroom a word I cannot say on this blog.  Interestingly enough, he said the word 29 times during the contempt hearing.

Although funny because of the profanity, what was lost in the exchange is the alleged incestuous relationship between the DA's office and the Judge's office.  Herb's point was that there was no reason the District Attorney's office had unlimited ex-parte (one-sided) access to the judge's office, while defense attorneys did not.  Although nothing was proven, Herb's point was that there was an obvious appearance of impropriety that would never be allowed if the same access was given to defense attorneys and public defenders.  He specifically (and fearlessly) said in his contempt hearing: “I believe that something improper is going on, yeah … based on knowing what people like you (referring to the Assistant DA in the courtroom) do and based on the perception that any defense lawyer would get.  We're not allowed to talk in there and whisper in the judge's ear during recess.  Why are you?  What are you doing in there?"

Herb never found out what was going on between the ADA and Judge Emerson, but clearly he was onto something. Too many judges get "chummy" with the prosecutors who are in their courtroom everyday.  This leads to an unfair advantage and sometimes corruption.  As criminal defense attorneys, we can all learn from Herb Shafer and stand up to judges who have a bias towards the prosecution.  Their job, above all else, is to be fair to everyone in their courtroom. Herb understood this, and he zealously defended his clients and the constitution.  

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


Ann Shafer Reply

Posted Nov 04, 2016 at 09:24:59

Richard, I just read this and Came Upon it by accident really. Thank you for saying those things about her. They’re not many people these days they are old enough to remember how fabulous a lawyer he really was. I was very much in love with him and everytime I open my mouth and court with some provocative remark, I think of him. You keep up the good work and I’ll see you in court. ANNIE

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Nov 04, 2016 at 15:09:35

Ann: I wasn’t a contemporary of Herb but really enjoyed knowing him. I have never met an attorney who challenged the authority of government any better. It made my day that the article touched you. I think of Herb very often.

Roselyn peplinski Reply

Posted Sep 01, 2018 at 18:55:34

Just found this article while looking up mr. Shaffer. I worked for him as a secretary in law office in Buffalo, n.y. In1958, 1959. We loved him. He handled negligence cases, etc. his children very young then. Great memories of those years. So sorry he passed before I located him. He was unforgettable.

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Sep 02, 2018 at 11:26:48

Herb Shaffer was a one of a kind person. I could not get enough of seeing him in court. Thank you for reading.

Nancy childers Reply

Posted Jul 15, 2020 at 09:35:28

I absolutely adored Mr. Shafer. He helped me out in so many ways. We shared the same Birthday and he called me every year from age 71 until 2012. When I found out he passed I was so heart broken. Wonderful man

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Jul 15, 2020 at 09:37:09

It is nice that someone can read my article and post a comment. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kolken Reply

Posted Sep 21, 2020 at 14:06:42

My father was a Runyonesque character. He loved the law, the written and spoken word , his dogs, and any woman who he could charm. He was a man of great generousity, and great venom.

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Sep 21, 2020 at 14:08:23

I am glad I could write something to help remember him.

Mimi O’Malley Reply

Posted Sep 18, 2021 at 11:55:54

My late husband Kerry O’Malley shared several cases with Herb. A brilliant and at times abrasive defender he frequently tested the limits in pursuing justice for his clients. He had a devastating sense of humor too. As you said” Runyonesque”. Not easily forgotten.

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Sep 18, 2021 at 12:20:52

I was thinking about Herb just the other day; whenever I need to summon the courage to fight he comes to mind.

Lance Stevens Reply

Posted Jan 27, 2022 at 09:10:19

I just read the contempt hearing transcript. With any luck, I will read it every week for the rest of my career. It is passionate, it is a vulgar chess game and it is HILARIOUS. It is my position that the prosecutor should win an award for even being able to formulate those questions in the face of such uncompromising, honest, ferocity (and he coined a phrase, which Herb basically forced him into, that made me spit coffee out of my nose—coc…….dom). I wish I had known Herb. I’ll drink a beer to him tonight.

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Jan 27, 2022 at 09:40:17

Thanks for helping keep Herb’s memory alive.

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