• LIFESTYLES CAROLYN HAX
August 12, 1999
Fighting tlie good fight
Banks is approached by the father of
A look at a public one of his clients. He wants to know
what's going to happen to his son.
defender's day in court Banks rests his hand upon the man's
David Hare shoulder and leads him down the haU
News Staff Writer in a private conversation.
The boxing ring has been the ruin Round 3 (noon)
of many good souls, while lesser men "Punk rock has instilled in me the
have emerged triumphant. For every creativity to be a better lawyer."
heavyweight champion of the world, Banks is sitting in a booth at the
there's a hundred broken losers whose Liberty Lunch Cafe inside the White
names have been stripped from Cross pharmacy on North Las Vegas
memory, as if history dealt them one Boulevard. The lunch counter is lined
final blow to ensure their place in with people busy with the day's
time be lost forever, like a bad dream, special or just having coffee.
barely remembered, soon forgotten. Banks is talking about his days as a
Villains, thugs, heroes, and one guitarist for the California punk rock
king, the mjrthology of boxing is filled band, "A Chorus of Disapproval."
with the lives of men, both great and "Punk rock has no boimdaries," he >
small, all united in a quest for the one said.
penultimate prize that's a hard sell on In the summer of 1994, Banks and
the streets these days: ; •• '• his band mates went on a European
Dignity. tour promoting their latest CD, "Firm
In 1993, Jeff Banks found more Standing Law." Though the band had
than dignity when he stepped into the been together for nine years. Banks
ring at the Cow Palace in San Fran- said they wanted to play one last time
cisco, he found himself. before breaking up.
A member of the Pugilist Society in So, with his first semester of law
Oakland, Banks was a super heavy- school behind him, Banks took his
weight contender in the Golden Gloves Charvel Predator guitar and left
semi-finals. That night Banks was Omaha for Europe.
knocked out near the end of the final "While everyone else was busy with
round in front of 4,000 spectators. their summer internships, I was
Ever since his eighth birthday slinging a guitar across Italy," he said.
when he was given two sets of boxing Banks played with the band from
gloves and head gear. Banks said he 1990-1992 while at the University of
wanted to be just like his idol, California, Berkeley, where he re-
Muhammad Ali. All's grace and , ceived his bachelor's degree in history.
confidence mystified the young boy He was also the heavyweight member
firom the suburbs of Los Angeles. of the Intercollegiate Boxing Team. He
At the Cow Palace, however. Banks said ever since he was in elementary ^.
said when he stepped out of the ring school, he's always followed a pure *"-
and into the foggy San Francisco and simple philosophy.
'» evening, he left his childhood dreams "Always stay in good graces with
behind on the canvas. Instead, he your family," he said. "Make your
traded in his silk trunks for a silk tie parents proud."
and headed off to Creighton School of Both his parents still live in the
Law in Omaha, Neb. same house he grew up in near Los
The next time Banks stepped into Angeles. Banks Sr. worked as a
the ring, it would be as a public brewer most of his life until his
defender inside a Las Vegas court- retirement last year.
room where the rules are different, "My dad worked seven days a week
but the stakes are still high. so I could get to where I was going,"
"When you've been in a boxing ring, Banks said.
you learn self-reliance and determina- Becoming a lawyer was not the first
tion," he said. "So I'm not intimidated career choice for Banks. In fact, he
in the courtroom." said he wanted to be a boxing pro-
moter in Las Vegas. He figured a law
Round 1 (8:30 a.iii.) degree would give him greater lever-
As a criminal defense lawyer for the age to immerse himself in the Las
Clark Coimty Public Defender's LAW AND ORDER — Clockwise
from top, Jeff Banks, a criminal
Vegas boxing community.
Office, Banks' day starts off rather However, after moving to Las
routine. In fact, there is very little defense lawyer for the Clark
County Public Defender's Office,
Vegas in 1996, Banks found himself
about his job that could be called working in insurance defense, an area
glamorous. No TV lawyer would dare consults with a client in the
hallway of the Clark County court
of law he foimd too mundane. He said
trade places with him, not even for a it wasn't until he started working in
month of high ratings. house; Banks looks over a stack
of case files; Sitting at the de- the public defender's office a year and
Banks wouldn't let them. He says a half later that he finally realized he
he loves his job too much. fense table. Banks glances over at
the defendant's stand; Returning wanted to be a lawyer.
"I'm here to ensure the rights of the "I love this job," Banks said. "This
indigent are protected and that no from the courtroom. Banks
makes a quick change in his
is the best environment I've ever
government agency is violating the worked in."
rights of my client," he said. "In a lot office.
Banks credits his fellow team
of people's eyes, this is not the most members with making the daily case
popular cause to champion. I like the loads endurable. According to Banks,
underdog quality of that." the team handles between 50 to 100
In his downtown office on the third Clifl. But as he leaves his office with a appear relaxed. One could be an Meanwhile, Banks offers some last-
minute counseling to a client in the active cases over the span of a few
floor of the Public Defender's building. stack of case files under his arm, all accountant, another perhaps a college months, with roughly five to 10 new
pretense is put aside. student; none of them are free men. hallway. Sometimes a defendant gets
Banks, 30, is surrounded by the ones added each week.
arcana of his life, details which lend The walk to the courthouse is quiet. "All rise, the Honorable Jack confused by the fast-paced proceed-
ings inside the courtroom. There is The team's scope reaches across the
credence to his idiosyncratic personal- Banks appears both calm and ener- Lehman presiding," the bailiff an- valley, including Boulder City,
ity: a picture of Marlon Brando from gized. Flashing his PD's badge at the nounces. little time for pause and reflection.
Laughlin, and Henderson.
guard, he ambles down the hall The defendants rise in unison along The fate of the defendants is solely
"The Godfather," Robert De Niro in Banks said that perhaps the
toward the big wooden doors of the with the rest of the courtroom — determined by the final ruling of
•Raging Bull," the Rat Pack lined up hardest part of his job is having to be
courtroom. spectators, friends and family. Lehman, which could include proba-
famously in front of the marquee the bearer of bad news for his clients
No bells, no ropes, no ringside Banks and the prosecutor exchange tion, drug counseling, house arrest or
outside the Desert Inn. and their families. He regularly visits
Only one picture hangs on the wall announcer, yet it's hard not to feel like a few pleasant formalities before prison. Some will remain in jail his clients in jail to offer his support
Banks is once again meeting destiny returning to their respective seats. pending the outcome of their case. while their case winds its way through
behind his desk, a photo of Ali wear-
inside the ring. Lehman begins calling out the Banks and his client are back in the the system.
ing a crisp pin-striped suit. On the
names of the defendants, ordering courtroom standing before the bench. "My job is to advise and protect my
small bookcase below, there's an
Round 2 (9:10 a.m.) them to stand individually as he reads Lehman reads from the file again, clients interests," he said. "Sometimes
autographed picture of Floyd
Inside the Clark County Court- from their case file. The offenses then listens to the newly polished that includes telling them, Tou will
Patterson punching a body bag. It
house, a group of defendants is led range from possession of a controlled defense. The defendant enters a guilty lose if you don't take this deal.*"
says. To my friend, Jeff Banks." Next
into District Judge Jack Lehman's substance, to burglary and attempted plea to a gross misdemeanor. He is Another lesson Banks learned from
to that item is a smiling 8 by 10 glossy
courtroom. The morning's criminal aggravated stalking. then referred to the Nevada Depart- boxing — never underestimate 3rour
of Henry Winkler as Arthur Foniarelli
calendar is about to begin. On the far wall behind the judge's ment of Parole and Probation for a competitor and learn to adapt mid-
from "Happy Days." pre-sentence investigation report.
Fonii? llie six defendants enter through a bench hangs the Great Seal of the stream.
side door, shackled together by their state of Nevada; at the bottom it reads Hell be back in court in two months
"Well, no matter how cool and
wrists and ankles; the only other "All For Our Country." where he could face up to a year in Round 4 (8:47 pan.)
tough he seamed, the Fonz was always
looking out for the little guy," Banks detail linking them together is a state- Both defense attorneys and attor- jail. Banks has been fielding phone calls
issued navy blue jump suit each is neys for the state address the court in Shortly thereafter, the defendants all afternoon. A fsw of his clients have
explained. are led fh)m the courtroom. For better
In his daric blue suit. Banks himself wearing as they shuffle over to the attempts at dispensing their particu-
defendant's stand on the west end of lar brands of justice. "The list of crimes or worse, their lives have changed
resembles someone famous; there is 8M DEFENDER
the courtroom. continues, followed by the lawyer's from when they first came in.
an air of old Hollywood about him, Page 16
Some of them look weary, a few recommendations to the judge. Before heading back to his office,
Jimmy Stewart meets Montgomery
Photos by Lee Zaichick ' News Staff