Hundreds of lawyers practice their craft in Cleveland County, but few have the same history and continuing legacy as the Stockwell family.
Three generations of Stockwells have defended people accused of crimes, filed lawsuits and divorces and established wills and trusts for families in several central Oklahoma counties. And, at least one Stockwell family lawyer has prosecuted the same defendants other family members were trying to defend.
Maddie Stockwell Clark is the latest of the Stockwell clan to move into the family firm, but she initially was a prosecutor for two years under Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Now, Maddie is hoping to carry on the legacy established by her late grandfather and family patriarch Ben Stockwell who started the firm in 1963 and died in 1990.
"One of the reasons I left (Oklahoma County DA's office) is I knew what my dad is doing helps people," she said. "I try to see the good in people and I want to help people like my dad. I want to see the family business keep going."
The Stockwell & Clark law firm specializes in criminal defense and expungement law with an emphasis on DUIs. Maddie and David acknowledge the expungement part of their practice is unique and can benefit someone who is trying to get their life right after an unfortunate mistake.
"It (conviction) can really hurt you," Maddie said. "We get thank you cards from parents all the time about helping their kids who did something they shouldn't have when they were young or in college."
David, who joined his father at the Norman law firm in 1989, started his career as an undercover agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control where he worked for about six years.
But for the past 30 years, he's trying to help people stay out of trouble instead of putting them behind bars.
"What I like about what we do here is we have the knowledge and resources to look at a police report and know if we can help," David said.
Expungement law has been part of the Stockwell practice the past 10 years. In some cases, the Stockwells are dealing with former convicts who were granted clemency. In those instances, the ex-cons are eligible within 30 days to have their convictions expunged, which can be a benefit for someone trying to find work.
Having a criminal record can be a non-starter for anyone looking for a job, Maddie said.
"Would you like fries with that burger?" David quipped. "That's the type of work you're looking at with a criminal record."
David and Maddie are confident their expungement expertise helps almost everyone who comes to them.
"If we can't get it done, we refund the fees," David said. "I've refunded three fees."
After 30 years as an attorney, David knows the facilities and resources that can be used to assist his clients, especially those accused of DUI offenses. The firm often will give clients information about treatment centers and drug and alcohol classes before they see a judge. In some cases, the clients have already enrolled in the programs as a way to mitigate the charge against them.
David is chairman of Cleveland County's Adult Drug Court board and serves as chairman of the Community Sentencing Planning Council.
David and Maddie aren't the only barristers in the family. David's sister, Peggy Stockwell, specializes in family law and her husband Richard Stevens, is the ethics counsel at the Oklahoma Bar Association. In addition, their daughter Liz Stevens is a lawyer at a Phoenix catastrophic personal injury firm.
Peggy, who left the family law practice years ago, discussed the difficulty in working divorce cases compared to 1983 when she passed the bar exam and received her license to practice law.
"It's not like it used to be," she said. "Now, you have a two-page divorce decree and you're trying to figure out how much to pay in child support, who needs parenting classes and when visitation will occur."
There's also mediation, domestic abuse and guardian ad litem issues that can cause the easiest divorces to take months or years longer than expected. About 20% of all divorce cases, especially those involving children and substantial assets, are decided with a trial, Peggy said.
Technology has hurt divorce cases many times, Peggy said.
"People can be so ridiculous with Facebook and other forms of social media," she said.
In one case, Peggy was arguing her client should receive custody of the children. At about that time, the opposing attorney held up a social media photo showing the female client smoking a joint. Peggy lost that case.
As Peggy and David reflected on their law careers, they acknowledged their best mentor was Ben Stockwell.
"It was good," Peggy said. "He was a good teacher. He taught me and my friends to do our legal research. I prefer the books to the computer."
Ben had other profound words of wisdom for his adult children.
"He taught me that your word is your bond," David said. "And, never lie to the court or anyone you're dealing with. Also, be nice to the bailiffs."