How many times have we recited these four words at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance without giving much thought to what they mean? But, fortunately, there are people among us for whom this phrase is a guiding force. Paul D. MacAulay was one of them.
You might not recognize his name, for he was rarely, if ever, in the headlines. He did not want to be, according to several people who knew him. That wasn’t his style. But, MacAulay, who died unexpectedly last week at the age of 69, was a local criminal defense lawyer who quietly spent decades representing — as stated in his obituary — “the most powerless and downtrodden in our community.” As a public defender and a private attorney, MacAulay dedicated much of his career to making sure that justice did not depend on one’s own ability to pay for it. Over the years, MacAulay not only represented many poor defendants himself, he also volunteered in a variety of capacities to focus on improving equality in our criminal justice system — one of Unite Rochester’s leading objectives.
In 2015, Monroe County and the Monroe County Bar Association’s Assigned Counsel Program handled nearly 3,600 homicide, felony and misdemeanor cases involving indigent clients in courts throughout the county. The defendants were charged with the full gamut of offenses: arson, assault, burglary, drug and weapon possession, DWI, gang assaults, robbery, prostitution, stalking, grand larceny, murder. The one thing every single defendant had in common, however, was the guarantee of counsel, deemed by the U.S. Supreme Court as essential to a fair trial. These cases are often very difficult to defend. The circumstances, to be frank, sometimes lead to high emotions and conflict between attorneys, clients and their family members. Some of the crimes they are accused of committing are horrendous. Long hours preparing for court can be met with little or no gratitude. But a number of close colleagues told our Editorial Board that they never saw MacAulay lose his cool, his patience, or his unwavering belief that everyone is entitled to qualified legal representation. He was the first to raise his hand for the tough cases. He was a role model for young attorneys in the public defenders office and beyond. It is fitting that those wishing to honor his memory are being directed by MacAulay’s family to donate to Campaign for Justice, care of the Volunteer Legal Services Project, another initiative striving to provide high quality legal services to poor people in Monroe County. We can all recite the words, “justice for all.” MacAulay brought those words to life.