Today was the funeral of a dear friend of mine, William H. Buckman of Moorestown, NJ, which I attended with about 20 members of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers among about 350. We came to honor a man and his legacy that I truly loved and admired.
I met Bill through NACDL almost 25 years ago and he invited me to do a CLE in the early 90’s. Bill was a man of uncommon humor, intellect, and doggedness as a criminal defense lawyer. He was responsible for the litigation that proved the New Jersey State Police racially profiled in State v. Soto, 324 N.J. Super. 66, 734 A.2d 350 (1996), although his name is far down the list of lawyers in the case. Soto was presented as a Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment challenge, but only the equal protection claim needed to be decided.
His death was noted on numerous news and legal websites because of his indelible influence on criminal law in New Jersey and the law of racial profiling nationally. Aside from Soto and all related racial profiling litigation that ultimately involved the U.S. Dept. of Justice, he sued New Jersey because the state refused to adopt proper regulations for medical marijuana after it was legalized.
I looked forward to every NACDL meeting because of his wit and his conversation. Even though I’m five years older than him, he always referred to me as “young man.” Another friend in New Hampshire wrote today on the NACDL list serv, which sums up how we all feel:
I think this may be the only place that I will be able to say this and people might understand.
Buckman was a hero to me. He was a role model. He taught me that an ordinary guy with a law degree could accomplish great things, make the world a better place and remain a human being. And he did it without ego, without pretense and without pomposity. He brought his wit and humor to every interaction that I ever had with him.
When I attend NACDL meetings I always hope to see Buckman and spend some time with him. He was a large part of the revitalization that I feel every time that I was able to commune with my sisters and brothers from across the country. He is one of the people that I think of when I have self-doubts about my own efficacy or role in the system, the community or the universe.
Bye Bill, I love you and will miss you.
As his own children and Rabbi said at the service, he always fought for the downtrodden and oppressed, and he was never afraid of the complicated and unwinnable case because he could make them winnable. He was one of the men Harper Lee was referring to: “I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father is one of them.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, ch. 22, p. 197 (1960). As the casket left the room, everyone standing, I thought of the scene from the book and movie: “Stand up. Your father’s passing.”
As his Rabbi said at the close of today’s service: “Bill was a mensch; a man among men.” After a heart attack a few months ago, I called him on his cell phone in the ICU after a day of rest. We talked for about ten minutes, and I told him I loved him. I’m so glad I called him.
He was an unstoppable force, except for the depression that took his life, something I could never see. I will miss him. NACDL and NORML will miss him. And America is better because of his life and work. And we must celebrate the life of this uncommon man who meant so much to, and did so much for, so many people. He gave the voiceless their voice, and they were heard.
Thank you Bill, for being a part of my life.