Carl Maxey made his mark as a lawyer by representing the underdog and the under class.
And he did it, judges and attorneys said Thursday, with an integrity and compassion that impressed adversaries and friends alike.
“He consistently occupied the moral high ground in all his work,” said Michael Donohue, Spokane County Superior Court judge. “He cared much more about the law than about the law business.”
During a legal career that spanned 46 years, the 1951 graduate of Gonzaga Law School took on cases most other Spokane attorneys wouldn’t touch.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he represented blacks suing local businesses that refused to serve them food or hire them for jobs.
“The judicial system is where we have to demand and insist on fair treatment,” Maxey said during a 1995 interview.
In one of his first cases, he helped a black man named Eugene Breckenridge get a job as a teacher on the all-white Spokane School District 81 faculty.
Maxey manufactured an out-of-court settlement that led to the 1951 hiring of Breckenridge, who later became head of the Washington Education Association.
Maxey also was instrumental in abolishing state laws that allowed bars, taverns and social clubs to refuse to serve blacks.
In 1970, he represented the “Seattle 7,” a dissident group accused of conspiring to destroy public property and overthrow the government in protest of the Vietnam War.
The case ended in a mistrial after a riot between the defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys and spectators. It took nearly 50 U.S. marshals to restore order.
Federal Judge George Boldt threatened to cite all the lawyers with contempt, except Maxey, whom he praised for his professionalism and integrity.
Throughout his career, Maxey represented people who most of society believed deserved no representation at all.
He stood up for drug-crazed killers, Hells Angels and dope pushers. He won some cases, lost others.
In one of his most high-profile cases, he defended Ruth Coe in 1982 against charges of solicitation of murder.
Coe, mother of South Hill rapist Kevin Coe, was convicted of hiring an undercover police officer to kill the prosecutor and judge who handled her son’s trial.
In the 1960s, Maxey helped a man who had escaped a Georgia jail on the eve of his execution and fled to Washington.
Maxey convinced then-Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini that Charlie Will Cauthen was railroaded by Georgia authorities. Rosellini refused to sign extradition papers that would have sent Cauthen back to Georgia. Cauthen settled down in Washington.
Maxey’s work for the oppressed garnered the respect of civil rights attorneys across the country, said Richard Kayne, Spokane County Bar Association president.
On the day of his death, Maxey’s family released a statement that called on the community to carry on where he left off.
“It would be his hope that all of us as individuals would do our part to stand up against injustice and oppression,” it said.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer Staff writer Tom Sowa contributed to this report.
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