Defense Attorneys are not Void of Compassion

The small confines and layout of the courthouse made it impossible for me to avoid contact with the young man’s family during the trial. Pulling into the parking lot each morning I would see them gathered around waiting to enter the courtroom, seeking another day of “justice” for their loved one. During breaks we stood in the hallways together, and shared the same restroom, as we enjoyed a mental break from the tension created by the adversarial process taking place in the courtroom. I could only imagine what they were thinking as I felt their searing stares as I walked by. Eighteen years in, I had become accustomed to the anger and frustration directed toward me from the families of victims. This time was no different from any other. After all I was defending the man that they wholeheartedly believed killed their loved one.


Around day three of the trial I was in the restroom during one of our breaks. Usually full, this day the bathroom was just occupied by me and an elderly white woman. I knew she was related to the young man that died, I just wasn’t sure how. After making eye contact I smiled and greeted her.  Much to my relief she did not sneer, curse, or lose it. She simply smiled and acknowledged my greeting. Staring into her eyes I knew that I could not let this opportunity pass without acknowledging her pain. I took a deep breath as I moved in closer and said, “I am really, really sorry for your loss. I know that this is very hard for you and the rest of your family.” Without hesitation she responded, “Thank you honey. I really appreciate that. He really meant the world to me…”. I then listened as she shared that the young man that died was her sweet and loving grandson and she had practically raised him. I also learned that this grandmother had suffered through the tragic loss of her grandson, the loss of her husband, and dealt with some major health issues of her own, all within a short period of time.

When she finished talking, I reached out, hugged her, and sincerely thanked her for sharing these things with me. I also offered another apology for her tragic loss. As I stepped back she said, “Sweetheart, I understand that you have a job to do. I am not angry with you. You are doing your job.” Walking back into that courtroom to resume my position in the ring, I knew that there was at least one other person in there that got it.


While I wholeheartedly believed in my client’s innocence and fought hard for his exoneration, I also completely understood that there was a family in that room that wholeheartedly believed that my client was responsible for their tremendous loss. But, I also knew there was a grandmother in that room that understood that my zealous advocacy did not mean that I lacked compassion for her family and the pain that they were feeling. What more could I ask for?

Much love,


Published by Tonza D. Ruffin

Perfectly Imperfect but VERY PROUD WOMAN, MOM, LAWYER, and AUTHOR, but most importantly...LIFE LOVER! I laugh loud, I work hard, I play hard, I am adventurous, I am curious, I am driven, I have moments of deep insecurity, I am loving, I am vulnerable, I am explosive (not one of my finer qualities), I dance around my house alone, I am an awful perfectionist which makes my insecurity worse, I sing out loud in my car without any concern for whose watching, I have trust issues, I do not live through my children, I no longer try to force my children into the mold that I created so that I could feel validated as a mother, I am a risk-taker, I am guarded in my personal life, I am kind, I am grateful. I am so excited about the rest of my life!

7 thoughts on “Defense Attorneys are not Void of Compassion

  1. Wow, such a powerful story. I certainly commend you for taking the time to speak to her, as well as truly listening to her. It certainly takes smarts to do what you do, but it also takes heart, which you obviously have.

    1. Thank you Steve! I have learned over the years that compassion really does go a long way. I was so happy to have the opportunity to talk to her. Her understanding meant the world to me.

  2. Wonderful Story. It takes a compassionate and strong person to walk in your shoes. It is important that you remember that you are a loving human being that “Attorney” is your job title and your job has never defined you nor your compassion for others. I knew you before this world began to build it’s case on your shoulders, and that young girl, mother, cousin, daughter, sister and my 1st best friend has always had compassion and love!

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