In the current racially charged atmosphere, Jason Sheffield and Bob Rubin are representing two white men for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black 25-year-old killed by three shotgun blasts on Feb. 23 near the coastal town of Brunswick, Ga.
The case was referred to the duo by the lawyers for the accused Greg McMichael, with whom they have previously worked.
Sheffield said, “We have taught trial technique seminars locally and internationally with the Hogues, a husband-wife team out of Macon, many times over the years and work well together. We are co-counsel, meaning we are equally responsible for knowing the entirety of the case and the representation of our client. Thus far, there is a terabyte of discovery to understand. We will divide up our in-court responsibilities, including making opening and closing statements and our presentation of what may be several hundred witness testimony.”
The slippery slope of the case is based on the defense of Sheffield and Rubin that although the victim was Black and the defendants are white, the facts of the case need to be revealed and understood before conclusions are reached.
Sheffield grew up in Marietta and attended Clemson University and Georgia State University College of Law. Prior to becoming an attorney, he worked as an emergency medical technician at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.
Rubin moved to Atlanta from Columbus, Ohio, when he was 17. He went to Emory University and Emory University School of Law, was a Fulton County public defender and an assistant attorney general before going into private practice in 1991.
Sheffield emailed the AJT, “Today’s racially charged atmosphere has raised everyone’s awareness of systemic racism and the insidious way people of color are targeted and left out of equal opportunities. We have experienced it with our clients in Black and Brown communities all over the state and we continue to care about and fight against those injustices with them and on their behalf. That said, there has been a lot of misinformation given to the public about our case, which in the end, is not about race.”
Jaffe: How so?
Rubin: Our extensive document review and interview of dozens of witnesses confirm that Mr. Arbery was not simply out for a jog that day or surveying the home under construction to learn about trades. He has a long history of complications with the law and with being caught entering neighbors’ homes. The state’s position that Mr. Arbery was just out for a jog and that he was chased, hunted down and executed for no reason other than the color of his skin, is unequivocally false.
Jaffe: Has there been blowback for taking this on?
Sheffield: We have received some negative feedback for seeking to ensure that our client gets a fair trial. It is strange to us that the people who believe, without knowing all the facts, that Mr. Arbery was killed because he was Black, also seem to want to see our client denied a lawyer and a trial. They seem to be advocating for the same kind of injustice that we as criminal defense lawyers have fought against for our whole careers. When people of color are charged with crimes, we zealously fight for their day in court before a blindfolded Lady Justice, and we believe that those values, found in our constitution, apply to all people, all the time. To pick and choose who gets access to their rights is to remove the foundational cornerstones that hold our society upright.
Jaffe: Are folks no longer interested in the facts and evidence versus race?
Rubin: Everyone is capable of rushing to judgment with little or no facts. It’s called prejudice. For those who are willing to listen to all sides, however, prejudice can be overcome, and an individual can make an informed decision. It is our job to make people care about the facts and not base decisions on a false narrative or incomplete information. The way in which the media serves our desire to have quick sound bites of information has set the stage for disaster. We must be careful stewards of the truth. To proceed honestly and ethically. If the media won’t do it, we criminal defense attorneys must.
Jaffe: Does this dovetail into your Jewish values?
Sheffield: We both have our own unique Jewish experiences. Consistent between us is our belief that we must work to perform justice here on earth and not simply for the hereafter. Whether it was my mother reciting the “golden rule” every day, which led to a career of helping others, or Bob’s desire to challenge unfair criminal laws, our passions have lined up perfectly with our Jewish values.
This case will be profiled on an upcoming CBS “48 Hours” news investigation show.