The prestigious Joseph F. McDermott Memorial Award is given annually to the criminal defense attorney who best exemplifies the goals and values of the Association and the legal profession.

Joseph F. McDermott Biography

Born in Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia in 1933 and grew up in St. Petersburg Florida.  After graduating from University of Florida and then University of Florida School of Law he began practicing law.  He was the only attorney in the area who wore a beard.  This was quite controversial at that time.  He worked tirelessly representing countless individuals while he served as an Assistant Public Defender and later as the Chief Assistant Public Defender for the Sixth Judicial Circuit under the legendary Robert Jagger.  He was involved in every death penalty case the office had up until 1968.  As a private attorney he continued to represent indigent defendants by handling court appointed cases where the Public Defender would have a conflict.  He had at least 300 jury trials to his credit, 50 of which were death penalty cases.  He was always a champion for his clients.  However, he always practiced his craft with professionalism and class.  He was known by many (Including the honorable Bernie McCabe) as the Cocky Buffalo.  Not only for his appearance and build, but for his silent but strong approach.  Joe McDermott would speak in a low gravely voice, while pounding away at the State’s cases. If his client was accused with someone else, it was the other guy’s idea.  If there was evidence, it was only circumstantial.  If the client admitted it, the act wasn’t premeditated.  If the client faced the death penalty, he would argue for life.  Many of his clients were indigent people of color during a time (here in the south) when racism was much worse than we see today.  Once after gaining an acquittal for an African American client charged with Rape (at the time a capital crime) he was attacked and beaten for the job he’d done.  He was recognized by the judges and attorneys at the courthouse as the dean of the criminal bar.   Later in life, when his health was failing, he continued to work every day.   The very last day of his life while in his hospital bed he was signing legal documents and getting updates from attorneys and staff at his firm.  He loved the law and loved being a lawyer.  He was humble a man as you would ever meet and loved everyone.  He had some tough rivalries as lawyers do, but he always found something about his opponents that he liked or admired.  He loved everyone and was willing to help.  No matter what, he never took himself too seriously and had a wonderful sense of humor.  When he wasn’t practicing or studying the law he enjoyed writing.  He penned three courtroom novels although none were ever published.  He also enjoyed reading for pleasure, the outdoors, and spending time with his family.  He was married to his high school sweetheart Patricia McDermott for 55 years before his passing.  He often quipped “In what other profession do you get so much entertainment.”   He really didn’t consider lawyering as a job.

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