The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Tom Devine: Committed Catholic, defender of justice

Published: September 8, 2012   
Dwain Hebda
Tom Devine, a member of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, has been a public defender for the state of Arkansas for 27 years.

Name: Tom Devine

Parish: Our Lady of the Holy Souls

City: Little Rock

Age: 54

Family: Wife of 32 years, Mary, and four children, Tom IV, Katie, Michael and Megan

Why you want to know Tom: After walking away from a potentially lucrative career as a trial lawyer, Tom has been a fixture in the state's public defender's office for the past 27 years. In so doing, he has stood up for those who could not, due to financial or other reasons, defend themselves in court. Along the way, he has helped many defendants find their way through the consequences of a bad decision or youthful indiscretion, people who often go on to lead productive lives.

In his own words

Arkansas Catholic's theme this year is "Catholic Beyond Sunday." How do you remain committed as a Catholic beyond Sunday?

I think the easiest way to do that is through daily prayer. When I go into court, I pray, "Lord, help me with what I need to do and let the people I am trying to help know what I am trying to do on their behalf." I ask him to help give me the right words and to bless the victims involved in the crime, too.

Did you always know you would pursue a career in law?

I think on some level, yes. I remember back in high school (Tom graduated from Little Rock's Catholic High in 1976) Msgr. (J. Gaston) Hebert gave us an English assignment on what we wanted to be and I wrote some impassioned essay on being an attorney. I was in private practice for one year after law school and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. I just wasn't comfortable with it. I joined the public defender's office after that and I have been here and loved it ever since.

"Blest are they who hunger and thirst for justice, they shall have their fill." Is that you, the idealist?

There was a time I suppose when I was a lot more idealistic than I am now, but yeah, I still think everyone has a piece of goodness in them. Sometimes it's very, very hard to find that redeeming quality but I can honestly say in 27 years, less than five of the people I've represented or dealt with were truly evil. Most of my clients, there's something in there worth fighting for.

How have you maintained that attitude over the years, especially in those times it felt like you were just constantly swimming upstream?

God sends you things when you need them because you're probably not going to get it from your clients in this job. I remember this one girl who was on trial for homicide, and we got a not guilty verdict, which is always a cool thing. She took the time to write me a letter thanking me for what I had done. But most of the time, I'm happy enough when I don't have to see someone a second time because that means they got an opportunity to do something with their life and they took advantage of it.

When the day's over and it's time to relax, do you watch courtroom dramas on TV or read John Grisham or do you get enough of that in real life?

(Laughs) I must confess, I love Matlock and I love Perry Mason and I watch them whenever I get the chance. Yes, I read John Grisham as well as James Lee Barker and Dave Robicheaux. I love Atticus Finch from "To Kill A Mockingbird" too.

We're taught to see Christ all around us. Moving in the circles you do for as long as you have, can you say you still do?

Yeah, I do. I see Christ all the time in this job. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't do it.

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