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Rex Marvel ’12 Named Public Defender Corp Fellow

After three years in Cincinnati, (Johnathon) Rex Marvel is off to the other Queen City – Charlotte, N.C. Marvel, a recent graduate of the College of Law, will spend the next three years at the Mecklenburg County Office of the Public Defender, as part of the 2012 Class of Public Defender Corps Fellows.

Marvel is one of 19 recent graduates selected into the second ever class of Public Defender Corps Fellows, which was created by Equal Justice Works and the Southern Public Defender Training Center.  The fellows will spend the next three years committed to changing the standard of practice for defendants who are caught in the criminal justice system and can’t afford an attorney. 

Marvel and the other fellows were chosen from 75 finalists, a group selected from the more than 450 initial applicants from across the country. In addition to North Carolina, fellows will work in Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

“It basically starts the day after the bar exam,” said Marvel, who has been studying in Cincinnati.  “I have to drive to Birmingham (Ala.). They call it boot camp and I’ve heard somewhat about it. It’s basically every day of the week, 12 hours-plus days. You don’t get to start working as a public defender until your bar results are back, but you are a fellow once the training starts.”

Marvel came to the College of Law from Florida State University, where he earned a degree in political science and religion in 2009. At FSU, Marvel’s main focus was in human rights, and he also earned a certificate from the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (CAHR), which is led by another UC Law graduate, Terry Coonan ’95. “He is the only reason I considered applying to anywhere outside of good weather,” Marvel said.

While an undergraduate student, Marvel had the opportunity to attend a conference at FSU with members of the International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and the Rwanda president. Also attending the conference was the College of Law’s Professor Bert Lockwood, director of the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. “I was able to meet him and it kind of sold me on UC Law,” Marvel said.

Although he will soon move to Charlotte, Marvel has enjoyed his time in Cincinnati – the largest city in which he has ever lived. Marvel, who grew up in Wichita, Kansas but finished high school in North Florida, has been surprised by the amount of culture in town and has enjoyed some of the festivals that take place in the warm weather.

Understanding His Drive for Justice

The recent graduate also had a positive experience at the College of Law, where he was an Urban Morgan fellow and later a book reviews editor for the Human Rights Quarterly. The summer after his 1L year, Marvel worked as a law clerk with the Botswana Court of Appeals through the Urban Morgan Institute. While Marvel noted that the judges in Botswana “did their best to preserve justice,” he was deeply troubled that there was no the right to counsel in Botswana. This led to many appellants struggling to defend themselves against the State, he noted.

Marvel’s experience in Botswana, coupled with family experiences involving a public defender, helped shape his interest in public defender work.  “I come from a blue collar background. I lived in a couple of trailer parks growing up and a couple members of my family have had public defenders represent them. Most recently it was my mother in my 1L year,” he said. “The public defender really invested a lot of time in her case and really helped her out of a very difficult situation.”

Moving forward into his own career as a public defender, Marvel has been inspired by something said to him by Coonan, his mentor.  “He told me to ‘find something you’re passionate about, make a niche of it and of kind of become an expert,’” Marvel said. “I really want to focus on helping people from very difficult backgrounds … I’m trying to get an understanding of the person and not just the problem.”

Life Away from UC Law

Although Cincinnati offers less warm weather than Florida, plus the fact that studying has kept Marvel very busy the last three years, he very much loves being outside. In fact, he and his wife, Bonnie, were members of the FSU Rowing team and were “on the water every single day” while in college. One hobby Marvel has picked up while in Cincinnati is brewing beer, which compliments his passion for cooking.

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13