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Bar News - April 20, 2016

Opinion: Fellow NH Public Defender Bids a Fond Farewell to Ed Cross... and His Hair


Michael Davidow (left) and Ed Cross.

As I take note of Ed Cross’s pending retirement from New Hampshire Public Defender, I find myself following advice that Ed himself once gave me. Doing so is a habit for his co-workers.

Many years ago, after chasing myself up some procedural tree and losing my way back down again, I went to his office to ask, “What now?” I knew I needed to file a motion, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t even know what to call it. I couldn’t make my troubles sound lawyerly enough. He heard me out, he gave it some thought, and then he imparted this lesson to me. “There are no magic words,” he said. “Just tell them what you need, and tell them why you need it. People respond well to reasonable requests.”

So without looking for magic words, let me say this: I will miss Ed Cross, as both a colleague and a friend. And I will also add this, in case you were wondering: Judges responded quite well to Ed’s requests over the years, and I think I know why. He tended to be the most reasonable person in any given courtroom.

He gained that reputation with years of being so damned reasonable that it may come as a surprise to those who know him, to hear exactly how stubborn he could be. Stubborn about being reasonable, of course. Take his hair, for example.

Ed is cursed with a thatch of graying turf that sits atop his head like a surprised and cornered animal. It looks like what a lesser British rock star might have sprouted in the 1960s, a Herman’s Hermit or a Yardbird. Alternatively, it looks like what a football jock might have had in those same years, after his girlfriend told him to stop looking so square. Ed had that argument with his hair in approximately 1974; his hair argued back; and neither has moved since. Ed’s hair is a reasonable compromise between his own lack of vanity and the requirements of the day. It is waterproof. It has its own bar number (three digits).

We kid because we love.

In truth, NH Public Defender can’t claim this man as one of its own, because he was fully formed before he reached us. He spent time at the NH Attorney General’s office. He served a few terms with prestigious Manchester firms. He came to Public Defender with his reputation and abilities already established (hence his reasonableness: because he saw things in all their complexity). He had already raised his children. He had already found the lovely Louise, his better half (with much better hair). But still, we would like to think we proved a good fit for him. Because even though it is not fashionable to speak of faith these days, unless you’re pandering for votes or speaking to small children, Ed’s work at Public Defender has had the aura of vocation about it.

Not that it has been marked by any sense of sanctity. You would need to go to Galway itself to find a better sense of Irish humor. It’s more because his work here has managed to encompass the notion of service – service to your fellow man. And while you could ask what Ed could possibly have in common with his client base (on any given day, a drug dealer, a murderer, a wife-beater, a thief), and you might dismiss the obvious answer as being inadequate (that all of them, as well as he and you, were made by the same God), Ed’s work for the past two decades has served as the most elegant reproof of any such doubts.

Nashua District Court (for those of you in the luxury boxes) has a bench for us lawyers, separated from the public by a small wooden gate. We sit in a row, waiting for our cases to be called; reviewing our files, checking our phones, engaging in discreet conversation and critique. In wintertime the chairs are piled with our coats, and we tend to forgive each other our casual trespasses; we sit on each other’s belongings. Ed has no exalted place there. He takes his chair with the rest of us and he waits his turn. Yet when he stands to argue a point, to press the court for action, or to simply help his client enter a plea, we often register a small pause to watch what happens.

Just in case. Because you never know.

We are all good at something here. Some of us write good motions. Some of us can cross-examine with facility. Some of us argue sentencing well. Ed does everything well. He is our Joe Dimaggio. We like to watch him at batting practice.

When he told me he was leaving, he explained that he did not seem to be giving his clients the same amount of attention that he used to. Ed often makes me laugh like that. He works harder than anyone else in this office.

I have been around long enough to see them come and go. Today’s best lawyer is tomorrow’s memory, and before long, a person gets forgotten. The old-timers will laugh at a random memory and the rookies won’t care. But Ed Cross has directly affected the well-being of thousands of people in this state. And those people – his clients and their families – will remember him for the rest of their lives.

Michael Davidow and Ed Cross are both public defenders at the NH Public Defender.

Supreme Court Rule 42(9) requires all NH admitted attorneys to notify the Bar Association of any address change, home or office.

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