Scott Sandlin

"Lawyer Honored For Devotion to Liberty,"
Albuquerque Journal July 20, 2002

Bill Dixon is something of an anomaly in the legal profession: A lawyer at a big, prestigious firm who doesn't mind dirtying his hands representing criminal defendants on occasion.

That, at least, was lawyer Charlie Daniels' opening salvo in heaping praise on Dixon as he presented him with the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers' Champion of Liberty award Friday.

Dixon, he said, is "a shining example" of a lawyer who hasn't forgotten why he went to law school. Dixon, 58, a partner in the Rodey law firm in Albuquerque, where he has worked since graduating from Yale Law School in 1968, was recognized for a legal career marked by devotion to individual rights and liberties.

Dixon is a renowned attorney in the realm of First Amendment law, representing the Albuquerque Journal in open-government cases and litigating dozens of other issues involving freedom of speech and religion as a cooperating attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1991, he and other ACLU attorneys litigated a case on behalf of an Eldorado High School student that forced the American Legion to drop its religious oath for Boys' State participants.

He went to court in 1999 on behalf of religious leaders from Quakers to Catholics who said they were being illegally excluded from jury service because of their religious opposition to the death penalty.

He lost that case, but it was one of the few.

"He just won't back down when the bad guys want him to. He's really stubborn," said Jennie Lusk, former director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

Daniels recalled Friday during the defense lawyers' meeting at the University of New Mexico that Dixon had been instrumental in striking down the requirement that candidates for political office pay large filing fees.

Dixon also specialized in voting rights cases an interest that took him from federal courtrooms in New Mexico to Nicaragua in 1996 as an election observer for The Carter Center.

He represented members of the Sanctuary movement during the crisis in El Salvador and is a member of the Guatemalan Human rights Commission, Amnesty International, Americas Watch and the Death Penalty Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Dixon was one of five finalists for a federal court vacancy in 1991 that went to Judge Martha Vazquez of Santa Fe. Dixon told the screening committee that he had come to realize "that the development of even the driest legal doctrine impacts, often disastrously, the individual citizens in our political community."

Dixon reiterated that theme Friday in accepting the award, noting that incursions to liberty often start small, take root and grow. The "incessant nibbling away at the fringes of our rights" will only grow if left unchallenged, he said.

Criminal defense attorneys, Dixon said, are the only ones "standing between us and a statism more chilling than anything George Orwell could have envisioned."