Lawyer Steven Wax takes giant pay cut to join Oregon Innocence Project: Why?
By Bryan Denson | email@example.com
April 03, 2014
Founders of the Oregon Innocence Project were pinching themselves Wednesday after snagging big-name defense lawyer Steven T. Wax as legal director of the newly formed nonprofit.
"We're just thrilled and honored and humbled," said co-founder Aliza Kaplan, an associate professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, "and excited that we're going to have such an amazing advocate leading the legal team. We can't think of anyone more perfect to do the job, at least at this early stage."
Wax, who announced on Wednesday that he is retiring as Oregon's Federal Public Defender after 31 years, is one of the best-known national security lawyers in the West, having represented such terrorism suspects as Mohamed Mohamud and authoring the award-winning book "Kafka Comes to America: Fighting for Justice in the War on Terror – A Public Defender's Inside Account."
But why would Wax leave a $157,000-a-year job, leading a team of top-flight defense lawyers and investigators, for a part-time position with a group whose annual budget – from office equipment to investigative resources to personnel – is just $135,000?
As it happens, the Innocence Project caught him at the right time.
Wax had been thinking about retiring from the Federal Public Defender's office for many months. He was no longer having fun in his job. Budgets, bureaucracy and personnel matters had worn him down.
In February, he found himself sitting next to Kaplan at a monthly gathering of lawyers and judges. Kaplan was talking excitedly about the Oregon Innocence Project startup, and she mentioned they were looking for a legal director.
"I looked at her with a quizzical smile," Wax recalled, "and said, 'Hey Aliza, maybe we should talk. I've been thinking about leaving the defender's office.'"
She emailed him the next morning with a question: Wanna talk?
Co-founders of the Oregon Innocence Project – Kaplan; Portland lawyer Janis Puracal; Lane Borg, executive director of Metropolitan Public Defender Services; and S. Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center – met with Wax.
And they offered him the job on the spot.
"Without question, without hesitation," Kaplan said. "For us, it was about a dream come true."
Wax sat on his decision for about a month. Last week, he gave formal notice to the federal judiciary that he was retiring.
His plan is to work part-time for the first year at the Oregon Innocence Project and open a small private law practice so he can take on cases that interest him — criminal cases involving national security, for instance.
But he's excited about taking on the core work of the Innocence Project, which is dedicated to exonerating the innocent, training and educating law students, and promoting legal reform to prevent wrongful convictions.
"It appears it will enable me to continue the work I love," Wax said. "To contribute to society. To help people in need."
-- Bryan Denson
||Truth in Justice