Thurgood, Tony, and Quin

comments 11

My brother Quin died last week. The death of a sibling may not sound like an appropriate topic for a law blog, but, as this obit makes clear, , Quin was not only a lawyer, but a very special one.

Quin is best remembered for saving the Unabomber’s life against his client’s wishes. But mostly his practice was appellate in nature. It included three arguments in the Supreme Court, more than 25 arguments in the California Supreme Court as well another 25 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Most of these cases involved challenges to the death penalty on behalf of indigent clients.

But I will remember Quin as much for his attitude as for his skills. A friend recently told me of her first sighting of Quin in court almost forty years ago. She was in a Salinas courtroom waiting to argue a case when her attention turned to a public defender arguing a routine criminal motion. She couldn’t help but admire the zeal with which he presented his arguments even though the judge was clearly unsympathetic. She couldn’t resist asking a colleague who the zealous advocate might be. “That’s Quin Denvir.”

That was Quin Denvir in every case he ever handled. On this blog, I sometimes call attention to lawyers who I think of as heroes for their attempts to create a less unjust world. Two excellent examples would be Thurgood Marshall and Tony Amsterdam, lawyers who have dramatically changed the American legal landscape for the better.

It might seem presumptuous to link my brother’s name with these legal superstars. And I don’t claim that my brother was a second Thurgood Marshall. But with regard to attitude, the three are peas in a pod. Each took great pride in being a lawyer, and each felt it was the lawyer’s great privilege to be able to employ his or her talents to see that the underdogs in our society did not become its victims.

Quin’s career should be an inspiration to all of us. I know it is to me.



  1. Ken Donnelly says

    John: Unfortunately, I only met Quinn one time nevertheless his Denvir warmth and charm are firmly fixed in my memory.


  2. Cy Rickards says

    Lots of people “talk the talk.” Quin “walked the walk” as a lawyer, father, friend and as god parent (along with Ann) to our son.


  3. charles farnsworth says

    A stirring tribute from a loving brother. Chuck Farnsworth


  4. Mary Nunez says

    John, my sincere condolences. Both you and he have left a much needed and appreciated legacy of a health care clinic (Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo) for the low income community of Imperial County. Mary Ellen Núñez

    Sent from my iPhone



  5. reza eslaminia says

    Your brother was a true life super Hero . First time I spoke to Quin was in 1987 from a blue-collect calls only- payphone in a smelly old county jail in san mateo . I had just been convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a crime which i am innocent of . It took 11 years but my conviction was reversed . we made new case law. on retrial the charges were fully dismissed. And it all happened because of Quin . without a doubt God had a hand in this along the road ,I’m just not sure if he helped because of me or because of Quin .
    Quin was my attorney So instead of sitting in a hell hole called Folsom prison for the rest of my life , I have walked on the beach I have smelled flowers I have enjoyed good dinner’s with friends i have married i got to play with my daughter . get to be with my brother who needs me. be there for my mother…all thanks to Quin.

    I cant even begin to describe the amount of dedication,time and effort he put into my case before and after the reversal .unlike most inmates in prison (who seem to have the same lawyer’s they call em ‘dump-trucks’ ) i KNEW i had an attorney who was my zealous advocate and was doing “everything” and anything that could be done. you saw that with Quin ,you KNEW felt it , you read it in the briefs and multiple supplements . he knew the case inside out , he read every single document ,welcomed and incorporated useful input and he would actually visit regularly ! old school,stand-up ,a fighter when needed & super smart ,dedicated to the cause or client till the end.
    you can not imagine how comforting it is to be in a very bad spot and have Quin in your corner .

    since my release 16 years ago, he never stopped helping me . doing everything he can countless times to help me .He has done more for me in the last 16 years than most of my close blood family relations
    I shall miss him until my last breath on this earth and without a doubt he will be the first person that i will ask for on the other side ! I bet he is already thinking of a writ …maybe some letters of references … something ….to get me in to heaven with him !

    knowing what i know now- i would gladly do 14 years and i would do it standing on my head if that is how i would get to meet Quin .He was my true life super Hero . and i am just one of many that he is been there for .
    More than anything, I learned from Quin how to be a real man and a real human being .
    I send my deepest condolences to you and your family Sir .


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