Public defender Cary Lacklen remembered as 'ferocious advocate'
Lawyer spent more than 30 years in public defender's office
Defense attorneys and prosecutors in Boulder and across the state have been left reeling by the death last weekend of Cary Lacklen, a lawyer who served for more than three decades in the public defender’s office.
“He was the epitome of a public defender,” said Karen Pereira, the office manager for state Public Defender’s Office in Boulder. “He was the person who championed the poor. I don’t think there will ever be another like him.”
Lacklen, 57, was found dead on Saturday in his Boulder home. Boulder County Coroner Tom Faure determined the cause of death was suicide.
His family and friends remembered a passionate, hard-working man who always found the time to fight legal battles for those who needed his help the most.
His son, David Lacklen, said his father was driven to make sure every defendant got the representation he or she deserved, regardless of their ability to pay.
“I don’t think it was ever a question of not taking them on,” he said. “He had the background, and he had the work ethic, and he figured if he wasn’t on them, then someone else might not do the job right.
“I remember growing up, he would disappear six months at a time working on a death penalty case.”
When David Lacklen’s friends got in trouble in college, his dad was there to help them out in court — and never asked to be paid, his son said.
Lacklen brought that same intensity to his family life, his son said. Cary Lacklen had wrestled at Duke University, and introduced his son to the sport.
“I don’t think he missed one of my matches in eight years of wrestling, often losing his voice at the matches,” Lacklen said. “He was there for those heartbreaking losses, and the big wins as well.”
Bert Nieslanik, who worked for Lacklen in the public defender’s office when his career was first beginning in the mid-1980s, said Lacklen wanted lawyers to do everything they could to represent their clients — and, Nieslanik said, he led by example.
“He was a wonderful mentor, but not in the sense that he would tell you what a great job you were doing — he would show you what you could do,” Nieslanik said. “He was like a bulldog and wanted more dogs in the fight. He taught you how to stand up to authority and not be afraid.
“He was always about what was best for the client, everyone and everything else be damned.”
Prosecutors who spent decades battling Lacklen in court praised him on Monday. Prosecutor Pete Maguire called Lacklen “a ferocious advocate.” Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy called him “incredibly honest and hard-working.”
Just this spring, Lacy worked with Lacklen to help move John Engel, a 21-year-old man convicted of killing his adoptive mother and grandmother at age 14, out of prison and into a halfway house.
“He had a lot to do with the system coming together and working for John Engel to help make him a productive member of the community,” Lacy said.
Lacklen’s family members said they are trying to organize a memorial on Wednesday and will print notice of the event in the Camera.