November 2, 2003
Charles Insler, Hullabaloo contributing writer
"The monkey brains were thawing," a Tulane student recently cited with a 95-mph speeding ticket on the Causeway Bridge said to his attorney. The man, enrolled in the School of Public Health, was in the process of transporting the brains used in malaria research to the Tulane Primate Center across Lake Pontchartrain when he was pulled over.
The brains needed to stay at a particularly low temperature, and as the ice started melting, the student began worrying that he might lose up to three years of research, so he began to drive faster. With the help of attorney Fred King, state district attorneys were receptive to the man's excuse, and the ticket was expunged from his record. King has enjoyed the interesting cases, like this one, that he has seen over his last 30 years of involvement within the Tulane University Legal Assistance Program.
"I like to believe there's no problem that can't be resolved. Every time I have the inclination to say I've seen everything, my student clients will come up with something wonderful and wild and new, and I appreciate that," King said.
TULAP offers legal advice to the students, faculty and staff of Tulane, and represents members of the University in court. The program began in 1973, and hired Fred King for its criminal clinic only a few months after its inception. TULAP is largely composed of first-year law students, and divides itself into a criminal clinic and civil clinic. King and counterpart Gregg Nichols, the two attorneys, oversee the criminal clinic and civil clinic respectively, while the law students handle many of the administrative and organizational matters.
The program is completely anonymous, and under the principle of attorney-client privilege, TULAP does not disclose the names of those seeking advice or representation. The most common cases among the criminal clinic include traffic violations and accidents, public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol and public urination. The criminal clinic also handles more serious affairs, including charges of driving while intoxicated, thefts and drug possession. The civil law clinic handles primarily divorce and bankruptcy proceedings.
Fred King -- anytime, anyplace Despite the separate clinics, TULAP is often synonymous with Fred King and criminal law. King is considered a miracle-worker among many, able to spring Tulane students from any trouble they may get themselves into. At the beginning of every year, and again at Mardi Gras, the residential advisors pass along King's phone numbers.
"Never go out drinking without Fred King's phone number," RAs warn. And for many, this advice is essential. "I think Fred King is common knowledge among the undergrads," Jennifer LaCorte, the assistant director of the civil law clinic and a second-year law student, said. "People have his cell phone number, his home number, his pager number. He's constantly accessible."
With so many numbers and so many ways to get in trouble in a city like New Orleans, King is practically always on call. "He handles cases 24 hours a day. He gets calls every night in the middle of the night and he is wonderful about it. He will handle anything. We love people to call in advance, but obviously if it's an emergency [it can't be helped]," Jana Wall, the assistant director of the criminal law clinic and a second-year law student, said. King however, takes the midnight calls in stride.
"I don't think I've slept in 30 years. Fortunately, I have developed the ability to spring from total sleep into some semi-competence," King said. Helping students out of trouble King appreciates students' gratitude, and it remains one of the reasons he loves what he does.
"I thought lawyers were dull, gray people who never had any excitement or did anything interesting and were only concerned with making money," King said. "Well that wasn't it for me. I thought lawyers should essentially help people. I've been in the same place that a lot of my clients have been. I empathize and I understand."
Sometimes, King is able to expunge the ticket or arrest from his client's record. "Generally, what happens is the [prosecutors] walk into court, they see you have Fred King as your lawyer, and you're [free]," LaCorte said. King is often asked how he feels about clearing those accused of wrongdoing. Whether he has any qualms about the process, his answer is simple.
"Everyone is entitled to a defense," King said. "And people don't realize how many innocent people are charged with stuff." LaCorte, on the other hand, credits the type of clients with King's successes. "I think it is good for college kids who are in a transitional period in their lives to have someone they can turn to and help them out, so that if they make a mistake now it doesn't follow them for the rest of their lives," she said. "They're his clients and he has to represent them."
Law students get experience Tulane Law students gain valuable experience from working with King and TULAP. Sixteen first-year law students are chosen as clerks for TULAP, and assist the attorneys and directors in running the program. The first-year clerks interview clients, research relevant laws, write letters clients may need and brief the attorneys on pending cases.
"It doesn't really help us with law school, but it may help with our careers," Todd Lowther, a clerk and first-year law student, said. "Not just in terms of getting one, but helping us become familiar with the whole attorney-client relationship."
Of the 16 first-year clerks, two stay on and become assistant directors in the second year, and directors in their third year. The assistant directors handle day-to-day matters, dealing both with the clerks and the clients. They answer the phones and schedule appointments for clients to meet with the clerks, and ultimately the attorneys. The two directors prepare the budget and handle the administrative tasks necessary to keep TULAP running smoothly. Despite the work and responsibilities, law students have enjoyed working both with TULAP and King.
"I love it. It's the greatest thing I've done in law school. You have the opportunity to work with clients and have experience you don't get in the classroom," Wall said. "And working with Fred has been amazing. He has a tremendous heart and dedication and desire to help anyone."
Though most of the staff is composed of law students, TULAP is not technically affiliated with the law school. Instead, it maintains its offices in the University Center, though it will soon be moving to the first floor of the Diboll Complex. Tulane beginnings After graduating from Georgetown University in 1966, King came to Tulane for law school.
But after contracting hepatitis from a bad case of oysters, King found himself bed-ridden for six weeks, with doubts about law school. That semester, he dropped out of law school and took a job as a wrangler in Wyoming, enjoying a self-described sort of second childhood, until an old criminal law professor convinced King to re-enroll. When King began practicing he found himself taking a lot of student cases, many of them arising out of his connections to Tulane athletics. King had been one of the founders of the Tulane Rugby Club and served as a player-coach of the club soccer team for 20 years.
"Being associated with the Rugby Club, it led to representing a lot of students," King said. These connections lead TULAP to focus their search on King. When TULAP began in 1973, King was not yet part of the staff. But soon after the program began, one of the original lawyers left TULAP for a position with a firm. "They were looking for people who were working in the area of law [in which] students would be likely to need representation," King said. "So they interviewed me for a position and took me on in 1973."
TULAP and King soon proved to be a good match. "I remember when we got sworn [into the Louisiana Bar]. The chief justice gave us the oath, and he said, 'now go out and practice.' And I wasn't sure that I wanted to practice at all," King said. "[TULAP happened to be] the most fun alternative."
Once a part of TULAP, people began seeking King's advice on cases and his representation in court. As word of his success in the courtroom spread, his clientele grew accordingly, and convinced King he had found his calling. "I suppose it was by popular demand that I went into the practice," King said. "And I love it."
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