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Published: Monday, 10/17/2005

Veteran public defense chief still enjoys job

Henry Herschel, head of the Lucas County public defender's office, prizes this painting in his office, 'The Hung Jury.' Henry Herschel, head of the Lucas County public defender's office, prizes this painting in his office, 'The Hung Jury.'

As longtime chief of the Lucas County public defender's office, Henry Herschel has maintained his enthusiasm for assuring that quality services are provided to the poor in court.

Mr. Herschel believes the attorneys who work under him are as good, if not better, than privately paid lawyers.

As a second-year law student, Mr. Herschel went to work for the public defender's office. He assisted attorneys in seeking for their defendants the then-unheard-of "release on personal recognizance," that promises a return to court as required.

Upon his graduation from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1967, Mr. Herschel was hired by Sheldon Rosen, who was the chief public defender at the time.

"I don't want to take credit for his success," Mr. Rosen said, "But what I got back then was a lawyer who had an eagerness to learn, a willingness to work, and someone who I could rely on to do the job.'

Mr. Rosen left the office in 1969 to become prosecutor for the city of Toledo, and placed the public defender duties in the hands of Mr. Herschel. The office at that time consisted of a staff of two attorneys and an office manager and it was part of the Toledo Legal Aid Society.

"Criminal law has changed drastically since the late 1960s. There have been revisions in drug cases, sex crimes, redefining in homicides. There are constant updates, seminars, and training,'' he said.

Now, Mr. Herschel oversees a staff of 23 lawyers assigned to courtrooms in Common Pleas Court and municipal courts in the county, and the office is now beginning to do some representation in juvenile court.

The office contracts with the county to represent indigents charged with felony cases in trial court and misdemeanor offenses that carry the potential for jail time.

The lawyers are allowed to maintain outside civil practices as long as the cases don't conflict with their jobs as public defenders. The majority of the staff has between 10 and 30 years of experience.

"These guys have tried many cases. They are experienced,'' said Mr. Herschel, who immigrated with his family to this country from Germany in 1953.

During his career in the public defender's office, Mr. Herschel has provided representation for people charged with the most serious crimes, including aggravated murder

"I like the arena. I am comfortable in it,'' he said. "I would say it takes a certain type of personality to be a defense attorney in that you can't be afraid to rub elbows, sit down in a jail cell, and know you are in for a fight from the other side.''

Today, Mr. Herschel is not in the courtroom with defendants. Instead, he is in the office overseeing the budget and administering the operation.

He grew up in New York and Philadelphia, and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on Flag Day at Independence Hall in 1960 after graduating from high school.

He graduated from Rider University in New Jersey and decided to embark on a career in law. He and some fraternity brothers visited Toledo to explore the law school, which was just beginning to offer day classes for full-time students.

Paul Accettola was an intern in the public defender's office during college and was hired by Mr. Herschel in 1975 when he graduated from UT's law school. He described Mr. Herschel as a patient mentor who carefully guided interns and young attorneys, giving them an appropriate amount of space so that they could learn on their own.

"Little by little, he turned the reins over to us. He cut us loose to do things on our own. He gave us enough room but was always present and available if we needed assistance. He was never too close and never too far,'' said Mr. Accettola.

Mr. Herschel, Mr. Accettola, and two other attorneys maintain a private practice in downtown Toledo near the county courthouse.

Mr. Herschel has been very active in supporting the university. He served on the UT Foundation's board of directors for nine years, stepping down only last week.

Vern Snyder, vice president of institutional advancement, said that Mr. Hershel, who has also served on the board of the alumni association, was instrumental in the initial phase of the group's capital campaign.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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