After more than a decade as a public defender, Stephen Patrick Beatty, "The Big Acquittal" gets his name on the door

Baltimore uprising lawyer Stephen Beatty
(J. M. Giordano)

During the trial of Morgan Malachi, a protester from Philadelphia who was arrested near Camden Yards on April 25 for disorderly conduct and refusal to obey a lawful order ("Protester Morgan Malachi cleared of all charges," Mobtown Beat, July 29), her attorney, Stephen Patrick Beatty, clearly relished the drama of the courtroom, repeatedly asking the judge if he may walk forward in order to demonstrate some point, waving his arms, modulating his voice, as he took long dramatic strides across the floor.

The state was arguing that if their witnesses, SWAT team officers, could hear the order to clear the intersection from the Baltimore Police's Foxtrot helicopter, then the defendant could also hear it.


"If I'm a police officer and I don't know there's a helicopter in the air, I'm not doing my job!" Beatty says with a dramatic emphasis, noting that the officers were trained to be aware of their surroundings.

Beatty, who is active on Twitter as @BeattyLaw, was wearing a rumpled off-white linen suit and suspenders—both of which would be appropriate on Atticus Finch, the lawyer hero of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"That book and books like 'Inherit the Wind' led me to want to be an attorney at a time I didn't think that was possible," Beatty says in his Lexington Street office across the street from the downtown courthouse. There's a framed film still of Gregory Peck as Finch in the film version of that book hanging on the wall above the desk. Beatty says he hasn't read "Go Set a Watchman," the just-released early draft of "Mockingbird," in which Scout, the narrator of the first book, comes home to Alabama to find that her father is a racist. "I don't want to read it," says Beatty, echoing the sentiments of many "Mockingbird" fans. "I want him to stay who he is in my mind."

Still, Beatty can see how the new book might highlight some of the limits he has faced as a progressive white lawyer representing black Baltimoreans—especially during the uprising.

"Originally I was out there to advise two separate groups as to their rights regarding peaceful protest," he says. "And it was great. A lot of really dedicated young people would come up to me and say 'are we allowed to do this?' and I'd give them advice. But then I found myself being swept up and crossing that line between observer and protester and so I would find myself on the barricade and instead of observing I was waving and chanting and I had to catch myself and say, 'is this my fight to observe and assist or is this my fight to fight?' And I'm still torn as to that but I think the decision I came to is my place is in the courtroom."

That decision came to a dramatic head when he watched the activist Joseph Kent be swept up by police in what many compared to a kidnapping on live television. By the next day, Beatty had helped to secure Kent's freedom and was appearing with his client on cable news programs.

"I represented him until both cases were dismissed," Beatty says of the activist, whom Rev. Heber Brown III called "MLK with tattoos and gold fronts."

"He's a guy very comfortable in the public light. I think next time I see him will be for some very positive reasons."

During the uprising Beatty worked nonstop. "Going out in the street during uprising, shoulder to shoulder and speaking to them in that context and hearing what they had to say out there where it was real, that was very eye-opening to me," he says. "And it gave me a much better insight into what the people who end up being my clients go through on a day-to-day basis as opposed to just I see them after whatever has happened has already happened."

Though he has a new understanding, Beatty says he has always been motivated by a sympathy for the underdog and a hatred of bullies.

He attributes some of this to his hardscrabble childhood in Glen Burnie. He did not do well in school, but was always hustling to make a dollar. At one point, he was working in a small clothing store when a young woman came in with her mother. "It really was love at first sight," says Beatty. But the mother saw his interest and kept running interference, getting between her daughter Tammy and her prospective suitor. They left before he could say anything. Eventually, she came back. "This time I didn't worry about the mom. I went right up to her and stuck out my hand and said 'Hi, I'm Stephen.'"

They went to her prom, then they got married, and Beatty, who says he graduated at the bottom of his high school class, bounced around, going into the Navy, working odd jobs, and eventually working for the Rouse company building mall displays. He loved the schedule and pace—30-hour shifts to build the Christmas village displays—but when he was 26 and his wife got pregnant, she told him he needed to decide what to do with his life.

"I made a decision right then," he says. Actually, originally, when he went to the community college he was going to sign up for botany classes. The line was too long and he didn't want to waste any more time and he enrolled in the two-year criminal justice paralegal program.

"From the first day, I knew this is what I wanted to do," he recalls.


After that, he received a scholarship to attend the University of Baltimore. "I told my wife, I know we had this baby but I can't really turn this down. She said no you can't. She encouraged me. She's always encouraged me. She's a rock. She worked the night shift at Maryland General hospital on the OB surgical for 15 years," he says. Their daughter, one of two children, is working the desk in the front of his office.

With the support of his family, Beatty worked his way quickly through school and by the time he was 31, he was practicing law.

When he was still working as a clerk, Beatty spent more than two years doing a post-conviction investigation of a case. "I was able to absolutely 200 percent in my mind not only come up with enough information to go to trial but to actually prove innocence and get a post conviction hearing."

Beatty was still a clerk, but he had already been sworn in by the time the hearing came around, so he was able to try it. It was one of his first appearances in a courtroom. It was a six-hour hearing. Beatty lost his voice. And he lost, he says, due to the incredibly high standards of post-conviction hearings.

"A man who I believe is innocent is still in the department of correction and there's nothing I can do," Beatty says. "His appeals are exhausted, his post-conviction done, there's nothing anyone can do to get him out. That was 15 years ago and he's still there. Was there 10 before that. And he'll die there. Life without. I think about him all the time. I still think about that case all the time."

Beatty leans back in his chair.

"I've won the vast majority of trials I've tried. I remember one or two of their names. But I remember every guy that's in jail because I lost. Those you don't forget. Luckily there aren't that many of them."


After more than a decade working as a public defender, he had seen a lot of cases—and shared an office with now-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who, he contends, should resign after her handling of the uprising.

But a couple of years ago, he decided to go into practice for himself. "I'd always wanted my name on the door and a banker's lamp on the desk," he says. "I don't know why, but it was always in my head. So I just made the decision. It was hard. Good people there and really close friends, great mentors. But the great thing is I see them in court every day."

But, Beatty notes, the real pleasure is in not having a boss.

Once, right after he opened his own practice, a judge, who he doesn't want to name, got angry at Beatty's courtroom theatrics and demanded the phone number of his supervisor. "I said, 'You know, your honor, it's very convenient. I have it memorized because it's the one on my business card, because these days it's my name on the door.'"