Students turn to local attorneys
By Fan Zhang, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, May 14, 2009
Gary Apfel '83 chose to work as a public defender rather than practice in a large law firm after graduating law school because he "did not like chasing people down for money," he said.
Now a criminal defense attorney with a private practice based in Lebanon, N.H., Apfel is among several lawyers in the Upper Valley area who often represent Dartmouth students.
Apfel, who said he was inspired to practice law by his grandfather, grew up in Laconia, N.H. He said he was not certain if he wanted to remain in New Hampshire for his adult years until he had a nightmare as an undergraduate that he was living in Kansas with only wheat around him.
After completing his law degree at the University of Connecticut in 1988, Apfel clerked for federal court judge Arthur Latimer in New Haven, Conn., before beginning his stint as a public defender. Apfel characterized his time clerking as a "great learning experience."
Apfel's career is similar to that of fellow defense lawyer and Dartmouth alumnus, George Ostler '77. Ostler grew up in White River Junction, Vt., and is now a partner at the Norwich, Vt. based DesMeules, Olmstead & Ostler. After graduating from Vermont Law School in 1973, Ostler entered the New Hampshire Public Defender Program and started his own practice in 1994.
Ostler said he enjoys working with Dartmouth students and represents 20 to 30 undergraduates annually. These cases range from alcohol-related offenses to cases in federal courts for more serious offenses, Ostler said.
"I think [Dartmouth students] are interesting people with interesting cases," he said. "A couple of years ago, there was a federal case involving students who were making false identification and selling them on the Internet."
Both Ostler and Apfel said students often benefit from hiring a lawyer to represent them, especially for more serious offenses.
"Obviously, I'm biased because I make money when someone comes to talk to me, but it can make a big difference, especially if they're criminal charges, because you are held to those statements in court," Apfel said. "Sometimes people can represent themselves, but they need to know what the stakes are. Sometimes they are also pleading guilty to something, but a lawyer might be able to get you a lesser charge."
A lawyer can also assist Dartmouth students with hearings in front of the Committee on Standards, Ostler and Apfel said. Ostler said he consults with students before their hearings, and Apfel said it sometimes helps for a lawyer to speak with the student's dean or with April Thompson, director of Undergraduate Judicial Affairs.
"Oftentimes, the consequences from the College can be greater than those in the criminal justice system," Apfel said.
Students are allowed to consult with a lawyer at any time during the disciplinary process, assistant director of UJA Nathan Miller said in an interview with The Dartmouth, but lawyers are not usually allowed to be present during a COS hearing.
"If a student does have a criminal case pending with the state or federal government, they can petition the COS for a lawyer to appear as a silent observer," he said.
A dean can also help students find a lawyer, and the College maintains a list of lawyers in the Upper Valley as a resource for students, Miller said.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous as his case has not yet gone to trial, said a friend recommended his lawyer to him. He said he found the task of finding representation daunting, although he said his dean and UJA were both helpful throughout the disciplinary process.
"It really all depends on your attitude and how you handle the affair that shapes how the College administration will handle the affair," the student said.
Lebanon-based lawyer Eugene Struckhoff, who specializes in DWI defense, expressed a similar sentiment. Struckhoff, who graduated from Princeton University in 1966 and Harvard Law School in 1969, said he has represented many Dartmouth students in DWI cases in his nearly 40 years of practice.
"Students should absolutely speak to a lawyer, especially for DWI cases," he said. "There are real serious consequences with the College. You are separated for at least a term, but lots of people can avoid being convicted or at least reduce the impact of a DWI conviction, so it doesn't hurt to at least go and talk to someone."
Struckhoff said he decided to practice in the Upper Valley because he preferred a small-town environment.
"I didn't want to go to New York or Washington," he said. "I wanted to stay someplace other than a huge city, and I ended up with a fairly specialized practice here."