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