After 15 years at the Broward Public Defender's Office, Assistant Public Defender Bill Laswell -- whom many people refer to simply as "Laz" -- is this month giving up a profession that has made him among the best-respected barristers in South Florida. A gruff, no-nonsense 65-year-old with a gray, grandfatherly beard, he ran a lucrative private practice in his native Indiana and then in South Florida for more than two decades before taking a comparatively low-paying job at the Broward Public Defender's Office. "I came here to die," he admits. "My kids were out of college. My folks were dead. When you're in private practice, you're too hesitant to take time off." Laswell has defended some of the area's most vicious murderers, including serial killers Lucious Boyd and Eddie Lee Mosley. But he remains a fierce critic of the death penalty and an ardent protector of constitutional rights. "Guys like me, when they get up in the morning to defend a Lucious Boyd, generally look themselves in the mirror and say, 'Damn, I shouldn't have drunk so much last night,'" Laswell says. "But then they look again and say, 'It's another day where I'm going to do what needs to be done to make the constitution work. '" But Laswell, an unpretentious lawyer who generally prefers four-letter words over Latin, finds himself increasingly frustrated at the twilight of his career. Overworked judges, trapped in a judicial system cash-starved by legislators, now push complicated cases through as if they were working on a production line.
"What I do and the way I do it are passing history," Laswell says. "I'm like an old range bull with nowhere to turn. The law is going right out beneath me."
For now, Laswell will trade killers and courtrooms for lines and lures. But even in retirement, a hardened criminal defense attorney can't shake his cynicism. "As long as I don't have to deal with lawyers and judges and sociopathic, homicidal assholes, I'll be pretty happy."