Civil rights lawyer argues cases for ‘voiceless’ black Americans—and wins

A Division of Zenger News

When LaQuinn Phillips was accused of dousing his pregnant girlfriend with gasoline and setting her on fire in 2018, he had a difficult time finding a lawyer. When he was acquitted after an eight-day trial, he and his family screamed for joy so loudly that a judge threatened them with contempt of court.

Thecrime was so brutal that most attorneys either demanded giant legal fees upfront or wanted no part of Phillips’ case. J. Wyndal Gordon was different. Knownin Baltimore as the “Warrior Lawyer,” he fights battles that others shun.

Phillipshad never been in trouble with the law before, and Gordon is confident borderingon flamboyant. He argued his way through an eight-day trial, winning “not guilty”verdicts on attempted murder and three other charges.

Ashis family shouted and the judge banged his gavel, Phillips embraced Gordon. Tearsstreamed down the men’s faces.

Gordonthrives on serving the marginalized in America, where he believes black men andwomen have fewer options for good lawyering.

“Partof my job is to keep the [judicial] system honest,” he told Urban News Service,“to ensure that the guarantees provided in the Constitution are honored.”

Photo of J. Wydal Gordon and LaQuinn

“Idefend the Constitution so that when you’re walking down the street with yourloved ones you’re not hauled off to jail indefinitely without any probablecause, that you have rights, and can assert those rights,” he said.

“Youdon’t have to be looking for trouble to find it. You can guarantee that youmight not ever commit a crime. You can’t guarantee that you will never becharged with one.”

Phillips,36, said Gordon built a reassuring mutual trust with him. “His confidence was alittle unorthodox at first,” he said. “There is an aura about him. But hisconfidence gave me confidence that I wouldn’t be sent to prison for something Idid not do, would not do.

“Gordonwas heaven sent for me. I owe him my life.”

TheUniversity of Baltimore Law School graduate’s client list is eclectic. He representedparents who sued Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. because their daughters werenot allowed to join. He fought for a 76-year-old woman who police threw to theground, and a teen arrested for murder after a group ran over an officer in acar.

Healso served as standby counsel for D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad, whorepresented himself in his criminal case.

Gordon,50 years old and the father of a five-year-old boy, wanted to be a civil rightsattorney when he earned his law degree in 1995. In school, he said, “I fell inlove with criminal defense. But as things would have it, civil rights is sortof an offshoot of criminal defense.

“Andit hit me: ‘I have to do something about this.’ Next thing you know you, I endup being a civil rights attorney by default, almost because you see so muchthat it’s hard to avoid it.”

Gordonrepresented Rhanda Dormeus, whose 23-year-old daughter was shot and killed by apolice officer in Randallstown, Maryland in 2016 after an extended standoff. Theofficer was not charged with a crime, but Gordon won a $38 million civil suit,proving the officer fired the first shot and killed the young mother.

Ajudge later overturned the award, but Gordon had made his point. And he’ll keephammering it while Dormeus appeals.

“Hefelt empathy and he fought hard,” Dormeus said. “He was prepared and thorough.More than that, he connected with me as a person.”

“Iwas broken. … He was about the only lawyer who would take my case, and I’m gladit was him.”

Gordonsays his work is “almost like a ministry” and a way to give “a voice to thevoiceless.”

Hesaid his legal idols are two men who have passed on: Johnnie Cochran, theattorney who successfully defended O.J. Simpson, and R. Kenneth Mundy, a flashyswashbuckler who represented the infamous Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barryin court.

“Theywere brilliant legal minds and they challenged the system,” Gordon said. Hecalled Cochran “gracious, humble and endearing”—and said the two courtroomlegends earned a reverent nickname.

“I call them ‘Black-nificence’” he said.


  • Curtis Bunn is a journalist, author, founder of the National Book Club Conference. He is a lover of God, family, golf, travel, good food and Whiskey.

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