The No. 1 question criminal defense attorney Pete Theodocion is asked is how he can defend people who many in the community might have concluded are guilty.
“I really don’t think about that,” the Augusta-based lawyer said. “You can’t.”
He said he approaches all of his cases the same way and puts his best defense forward, regardless of the guilt or innocence of his client.
Theodocion used the 2010 Gulf oil spill as an example. BP officials know they are at fault, he said, but they still need their lawyers to get them the best deal possible.
“If I’m defending someone who I’m not sure they did it, or if I’m completely sure they did do it, there’s no difference in what I do,” he said. “It’s just not a concern of mine.”
Theodocion, who has been a criminal defense attorney for 15 years, does not think about whether the client is guilty because he says it only serves as a distraction from the job at hand.
A client he is currently defending, however, presents a unique challenge.
Theodocion is defending a 10-year-old boy charged with murder. The veteran attorney concedes this is a first.
“You hear people in court refer to 15- and 16-year-olds as kids,” Theodocion said. “This is a 10-year-old; everyone knows he’s a kid.”
On Dec. 30, Jennifer Albright, 31, was shot to death in her Midville, Ga., home, Her boyfriend’s 10-year-old son was charged.
“I’ve represented all types doing what I do. It takes a lot to shock me,” Theodocion said. “But when that boy comes through the door, I don’t care who you are, it stops you in your tracks, how young and how small he is.”
Having the kind of serious conversation with a 10-year-old he typically has with people who are charged with murder is not something Theodocion envisioned himself ever having to do. He has an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl of his own.
“I’m not an elementary school teacher,” he said. “It’s surreal to have these conversations with him.”
Theodocion has a history of high-profile cases in the area, including defending former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean last year. Dean, also a former Harlem mayor, was found guilty on two counts of child molestation.
“That was a really tough one to lose,” he said. “It would be easy to say I didn’t really care but, no, I was really disappointed. It was pretty devastating.”
Theodocion said he anticipates he will appeal Dean’s case and hopes to get it to trial again.
In 2006, Theodocion defended former State Schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko in Atlanta. Schrenko pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to steal more than $600,000 in federal funds entrusted to the state Department of Education and one count of conspiracy to launder money.
In 2002, he defended Ralph Tyrone Williams, a veteran Richmond County narcotics agent, who was convicted of conspiracy and extortion charges in a drug trafficking case.
The Atlanta-born attorney said he has no moral qualms about what he does. He thinks intelligent people understand they could be accused of a crime and need a lawyer at some point, so they understand his role.
“I think people respect what I do,” he said. “Even the most anti-crime people understand it.”
Theodocion said he became a criminal defense lawyer because he likes the satisfaction of finishing a job he started. Most criminal cases take six months to a year, whereas civil cases can drag out much longer.
“The day-to-day practice of a criminal defense attorney fits my personality better,” he said. “I like to be in court, I like to argue. I like the action.”
He said he rarely runs into anyone who expresses negative feelings toward him.
“As long as I don’t put up false testimony, there is no moral dilemma in what I do. I promise you that,” Theodocion said. ”There’s no tossing and turning.”