For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 20

sheriff's deputies, who routinely keep the courthouse
safe, and others, are the hallmarks of my approach to the
practice of law. Lamentably, the experiences that I have
had while practicing law in Western Pennsylvania have
left me wondering if I was truly a welcomed member of
my profession.
In 2013, on a cold, snowy morning, I appeared
before the Court of Common Pleas in Beaver County,
Pennsylvania. During this time, I tried cases for the
Schuchardt Law Firm of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was
appearing in a debtor/creditor dispute. I arrived promptly
and anticipated a fast proceeding, as our written brief
had already been filed. I was also scheduled to appear
before the court in Allegheny County later that day. As
such, I needed to return to Pittsburgh in a timely manner.
I was in good spirits after seeing an attorney whom I
knew from my bar exam preparation class. We greeted
each other and took our seats. Within minutes, the
judge was announced. As I vividly recall, the Presiding
Judge promptly took the bench and immediately
proceeded to call the scheduled cases. I admired the
judge's fast pace, which assured me that I would return
to Pittsburgh on time. My case was the fourth or fifth
case to be called. I approached the bench when my case
was called. I announced myself as an attorney should:
" May it please the court, Attorney Charles K. Sunwabe,
Jr., for the Schuchardt Law Firm. " What happened
next can only be described as bewildering, unreal, and
unnecessary: " Counselor, I need to see your law license. "
The judge's voice was not a welcoming one-it was
not a voice of innocent curiosity. It was a voice of deep
suspicion-one that seemed to suggest that I was in the
courtroom attempting to commit fraud by claiming to
be an attorney.
I complied with the judge's request. I approached the
bench and gave the judge my law license. The judge
looked at it, handed it back to me, and motioned for
me to proceed. I presented my argument and we got
the decision we expected. By the time it was over, I had
enough time left to spare. I had intended to make it back
to Pittsburgh on time for my next court appearance.
However, I lingered in the courtroom to find out how
the judge would treat other attorneys. There were at
least five other attorneys in the courtroom who were
from Pittsburgh. They were all Caucasian. I had been the
only African American attorney in the courtroom that
day. In the end, the judge did not ask any of the lawyers
to present their licenses. I was the only person who was
asked that question.
Profoundly alarmed and besieged by an overwhelming
sense of sadness, I placed a phone call to Attorney Elliott
Schuchardt and explained what had transpired. Mr.
Schuchardt apologized as if he had personally offended
me. He also encouraged and praised me for maintaining
my composure in the courtroom. Nothing Mr. Schuchardt
said was lost on me. I accepted and appreciated his
support. Yet, there was a part of me that still wanted

20

For The Defense l Vol. 5, Issue 4

some explanation as to why this had happened to me.
Thereafter, I called Franklin Robinson, Jr., an African
American attorney, to seek his perspective. He listened
intensely and, just like Attorney Schuchardt, told me
that I handled the situation professionally and that I
needed to keep my eyes on the bigger picture. He went
on to point out that I was not the first African American
attorney that this has happened to and chances are that
I might not be the last one either.
The situation left a severely negative impression on
me. I felt like maybe I was not welcome in this profession,
even though I had chosen it and earned the privilege and
opportunity to be a member. I turned to introspection.
I made additional phone calls to my friends, mainly
Africans, who were practicing law in Texas, Georgia,
and Illinois. I was stunned to learn that, at some point,
they too had such an unpleasant encounter. I reluctantly
accepted this sad experience as the norm for an African
practicing law in this part of Pennsylvania.
A full month after my unforgettable encounter in
Beaver County, I appeared before a Magisterial District
Court in Philadelphia County. My trial had gone well
and I was successful in dismissing my client's criminal
charges. At that point, Beaver County seemed like a
distant memory. My experience in Philadelphia changed
my mind. I began to wonder and quietly said to myself
that maybe Beaver County was just a bad day. Or maybe
the judge was having a bad day. In either case, I realized
that I could not stay in Philadelphia. I was elated that I
had won, but at the end of the day, I had to go home to
Pittsburgh. The Assistant District Attorney kindly joked
with me, asking me to move to Philadelphia so we could
" go at it quite often. "
In January 2014, I was back before the Magisterial
District Court in downtown Pittsburgh. I was looking
forward to replicating my Philadelphia performance. On
that day, I arrived early for an afternoon trial. My cocounsel, Janell Johnson, needed to enter her appearance.
I entered the courtroom and saw two familiar faces:
Attorneys Franky Walker and Max Cotton. I greeted
Mr. Walker and then we instantly started discussing my
case. Frank is not only a friend, but a great mentor and
a beloved brother who inspired me to start my own
practice as a criminal defense attorney. His opinions are
valuable to me. As we talked about my case, Attorney
Johnson arrived. Shortly thereafter, we approached
the bench so that she could enter her appearance. We
stopped briefly for me to greet Attorney Cotton who
was walking toward the exit as we walked towards the
bench.
What happened next can only be described as out of
this world. As we neared the bench, there were three
court staff sitting next to the chair designated for the
Presiding Judge. Suddenly, one of the staff persons
began yelling and pointing at me: " do not approach the
bench. Defendants do not come up to the bench unless



For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4

Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 8
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 9
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 10
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 11
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 12
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 13
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 14
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 15
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 16
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 18
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 19
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 20
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 21
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 22
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 23
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 24
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 25
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 28
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 30
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 31
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 32
For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 33
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 37
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 50
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For the Defense - Vol. 5, Issue 4 - 52
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