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Law in the family

Father and daughter defense duo pool their talents in the courtroom

(Originally published March 1, 2005)

The scene in the Multnomah County Courthouse looked like something from the 1980s TV show 'Matlock.'

In the first season of the long-running series, a veteran criminal defense attorney played by Andy Griffith worked with his daughter to represent high-profile criminal defendants. Week after week, Ben Matlock demonstrated his courtroom experience while daughter Charlene backed him up with in-depth knowledge of legal precedents and procedure.

The father-and-daughter law firm of Des and Shannon Connall demonstrated similar skills before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden on Feb. 4. The two argued that he should lower the $10 million bail for Sung Koo Kim, the so-called panty thief.

During the hearing, Des Connall relentlessly pushed prosecutors to admit that Kim was not a threat to the community. The 75-year-old Connall aggressively questioned the state's main witness - Newberg Police Detective Todd Baltzell - until he finally acknowledged that there was no evidence that Kim had physically harmed anyone.

After her father was finished, Shannon Connall, 36, calmly stated that state law required Bearden to set bail at a level that Kim's family could reasonably be expected to meet.

'That's our MO. I'm the good cop, and he's the bad cop. When we go to trial, I make the opening and closing statements, and he impeaches the police,' she later told the Portland Tribune.

Most Portlanders probably are more familiar with the character created by actor Griffith than the real Des Connall. But he is a legend within local legal circles.

He has been trying cases for nearly five decades, beginning in the Multnomah County district attorney's office and now as one of the city's most successful criminal defense attorneys.

'You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of criminal defense attorneys who can make a good living in Portland - the whole state, for that matter - and he's one of them,' said retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice George Van Hoomissen, who supervised Connall as Multnomah County district attorney in the 1960s.

Connall also served briefly as district attorney from 1970 to 1972 - replacing Van Hoomissen, who took an academic job - before being defeated by retired Multnomah County Circuit judge and veteran legislator Harl Haas.

After the Feb. 4 hearing, Bearden issued an order cutting Kim's bail to $800,000. Although the Connalls think that amount is still too high, they take comfort in the fact that Bearden publicly acknowledged that Kim is not a suspect in the disappearance of Brooke Wilberger, the 19-year-old college student who disappeared from Corvallis last May.

Kim remains in Multnomah County jail while the Connalls are working to reduce his bail in Yamhill and Benton counties; Washington County reduced his bail there from $1.3 million to $480,000 in February. He is facing theft and burglary charges in Benton, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties, along with child pornography possession charges in Washington County. Shannon Connall appeared in Yamhill County Circuit Court on Friday, where she argued that Kim's $4 million bail there was unreasonably high.

The Connalls' goal is to reduce Kim's total bail in all four counties to an amount his parents can afford. If the Yamhill County court does not reduce it enough, they can appeal the total amount to the Oregon Supreme Court.

'We'll make that decision soon,' Shannon Connall said.

Setting the record straight

Fewer than a dozen other Oregon law firms include fathers and daughters, according to the Oregon State Bar, the state agency that licenses lawyers. Although the situation is rare, both Connalls said it has created no significant problems for them.

'The only thing we have to do is make sure the jurors know we're father and daughter, not husband and wife,' Des said. 'They see an old man and a young woman with the same last name, and until we make that clear, they can't think of anything else.'

Shannon Connall said she began working for her father before graduating from high school. She recalls helping prepare court exhibits when she was 11 and doing research on cases before graduating from law school.

'He got me hooked early on,' she said.

Both Connalls live in Southwest Portland and have large families. Des Connall, who is divorced and widowed, has eight children. Shannon Connall, who is married to Jerome Schlechter, has three children and two stepchildren.

'When I get home, it's just chaos,' Shannon Connall said. 'We have a very active household. I have to switch gears completely, and that helps keep me sane. I think my dad was the same way.'

Des and Shannon Connall both graduated from the Northwest School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. Des earned his degree in 1957, passed the state bar exam the same year and promptly went to work for the Multnomah County district attorney's office. Shannon graduated from the school in 1997 and went into business with her father after passing the bar test.

'I've never thought of working for anyone else,' she says. 'He's a brilliant lawyer and taught me so much.

'And he can't fire me, even if I tell him I don't understand something. In a regular firm, a lawyer wouldn't dare tell a senior partner that. But I can tell him that I don't understand something the night before a trial and he'll walk me through it,' she said.

A half-century of experience

Des Connall's knowledge of the law comes from nearly 50 years practicing law in the Portland area, beginning in the district attorney's office, where he handled some of its biggest cases, including the legendary Peyton-Allan murder case.

Larry Peyton and girlfriend Beverly Ann Allan were killed in a popular West Hills necking spot in November 1960. It took eight years for police to solve the case. Physical evidence was limited, and alternative theories for the murder were introduced into evidence, something that rarely happens in criminal trials.

In the end, two people were convicted of the killing: Robert Brom and Edward Jorgenson. A third defendant, Jorgenson's brother, Carl, was acquitted after the primary witness against him told the jury she had been brainwashed during hypnosis and a drug-assisted narcoanalysis session, the results of which could not be admitted into evidence today.

The murders and trial were the basis for 'Wild Justice,' the first book published by local best-selling author Phil Margolin. He praised Connall for winning the difficult case.

'It had everything, including the kitchen sink and more. It would have received national attention if it had happened in a bigger city,' Margolin said.

Connall was appointed district attorney by Gov. Tom McCall in November 1970. The post became vacant when Van Hoomissen left it to become dean of the National College of District Attorneys in Houston. Van Hoomissen recommended Connall to McCall because of the record he established while working his way up to the position of chief criminal deputy district attorney over 13 years in the office.

'He was honest, hardworking and had the respect of the staff,' said Van Hoomissen, who later joined the Supreme Court.

As district attorney, Connall added environmental and consumer protection departments to the office and increased its Circuit Court conviction rate from 91.6 percent to 95.2 percent, according to office figures from that time. He also created the Professional Criminal Strike Force to crack down on major drug dealers, fences and professional burglars.

At Connall's direction, police raided local bars where illegal gambling was being tolerated in illegal 'card rooms.' Seven owners were charged with conducting illegal games.

Connall now says that raiding the card houses was a political mistake. The public did not see them as a serious problem, and The Oregonian lampooned Connall with a cartoon portraying him as a costumed, muscle-bound Super Cop busting up harmless card games among senior citizens. Connall said the controversy did not help in his unsuccessful race against Haas.

'It may not have been the smartest thing I'd ever done,' Connall said.

Taking the other side

Connall went into private practice in January 1973, opening a firm with his former chief criminal deputy, Richard Barton. Today, Connall said he had no trouble making the transition from prosecutor to criminal defense attorney.

'A lawyer is a litigator. If you work for the state, you represent the state. If you work for a defendant, you represent the defendant,' he said.

Jim Hennings remembers things differently. Hennings worked with Connall in the district attorney's office before leaving in 1971 to open Metropolitan Public Defenders Service, which he still directs.

'I saw him struggle with the transition. Intellectually, he could see himself as a professional who was trying a case. But as a criminal defense attorney, he had to find the humanity in his clients that he didn't have to see when he was a prosecutor. But he did it, and he's a very effective trial lawyer,' Hennings said.

Connall continued making headlines over the years. In October 1978, he became one of the state's first lawyers to advertise his firm, buying full-page ads in The Oregonian and local 30-second TV spots.

The advertising, which had been legally cleared by the Oregon Supreme Court the previous year, was controversial. Oregon State Bar President Jack Kennedy told The Oregonian he hoped the practice would not spread - a naive hope, as things turned out.

But that controversy was nothing compared with Connall's representation of Robert Christopher, a member of the Outsiders Motorcycle Club. Portland police raided the club's North Portland headquarters in 1979. During the raid, Christopher shot and killed officer David Crowther.

Christopher was charged with murder. During the trial, Connall argued that his client did not know Crowther was a police officer when he shot him. According to Connall, the police did not announce who they were before breaking down the door, leading Christopher to think the clubhouse was under attack from a rival motorcycle gang.

The jury believed Connall and acquitted Christopher of murder. Although they convicted him of manslaughter, he was released two years later after the district attorney's office learned the police had lied to obtain the search warrant. Fifty other convictions were later overturned after an internal police investigation sparked by the botched raid revealed that police had lied in those cases, too.

Linda O'Neal, a private investigator who once worked for Connall, said his successful defense of Christopher sparked wild rumors within local law enforcement agencies.

'They thought he'd crossed over to the dark side,' she said. 'I used to hear a story that the Outsiders had Connall on retainer - that whenever the police would pull over an Outsider, Connall would drive up in a Rolls-Royce and spring him. Of course, none of it was true.'

Connall said he has no regrets representing Christopher or any other controversial defendant.

'That's the way the system works,' he said.

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