William H. Buckman
The roots of William Buckman's
distrust of police can be traced to 1971, when he
was arrested in Washington with hundreds of other college students while protesting the presence of U.S. troops in Cambodia.
, a Northeast Philadelphia native who was studying sociology at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
, remembers standing in a cramped jail cell for three days and being offered only a bologna sandwich.
"The police surrounded a group of us marchers in an intersection and announced, if we didn't disperse, they would arrest us," said Buckman
, who now lives in Cherry Hill.
"Then, they wouldn't let us disperse."
Nearly four decades later, Buckman
has emerged as one of the region's most prominent civil-rights lawyers and a national expert on racial profiling.
After gaining fame in 1996 for his
role in exposing racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike, he
made headlines recently when he
said the illegal police tactic had resurfaced in Gloucester County
and was being ignored.
In a federal civil-rights lawsuit, Buckman alleges that Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton and others filed bogus charges against a black man for complaining about profiling in rural Woolwich Township.
asks with a Lewis Black-like splutter that adds to his
resemblance to the perpetually outraged comedian.
, 54, the Jones case is the latest in a career that has often put him at odds with authority.
grew up in what he
called an all-white neighborhood of Philadelphia, watching television images of police officers' clubbing black people during marches in the 1960s.
Buckman was raised in a family with two brothers and one sister; his father was an optometrist, and his mother was the office manager.
Buckman graduated from Stockton and got his law degree from Rutgers University in Camden.
opened a practice and almost immediately won two acquittals for wronged police officers in Gloucester County
From the start, Buckman
focused on criminal defense and civil-rights cases.
handled death-penalty cases and helped expose the Lords of Discipline
, a reputed secret society of state troopers accused of harassing fellow troopers.
The state denied the group existed but disciplined seven officers for hazing and settled three harassment suits for $1.1 million, including $400,000 in damages for a trooper whom Buckman
In 1996 Buckman
began working on a case that became a watershed moment in his
In State v. Soto, Buckman was part of a legal team that convinced a Superior Court judge in Gloucester County that troopers were targeting minorities for traffic stops and searches.
The landmark ruling - the first in the country to recognize profiling as a problem - led to U.S. Justice Department oversight
of all New Jersey Turnpike stops and changes in other states.
Now, New Jersey officials want the decade-old supervision to end, saying illegal race-based stops have declined.
, whose office is in Moorestown, New Jersey, bristles at this.
"Jersey now has the tiger by the tail," said Buckman, who is on the boards of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the state American Civil Liberties Union.
says minorities are still being disproportionately stopped on the southern end of the turnpike and is preparing a new round of lawsuits concerning profiling on local roads.
expects to file a class-action suit on behalf of hundreds of Hispanic motorists who were detained on roads in Mercer and Monmouth Counties.
The stops are "off the charts," he
The effort consumed six months - including 72 court days - and earned Buckman
only about $20 an hour because he
had volunteered to help the public defender represent poor clients in the case.
felt it important to keep the police in check.
"The state police are a powerful paramilitary group that systemically stripped people of their rights and covered it up for 20 years," he
"This is something very frightening and dangerous to democracy."
Sitting in his modest office suite, surrounded by pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow and paintings of Philadelphia, Buckman
said denying the existence of racial profiling allows it to thrive.
only crime was driving a BMW
was not white," Buckman
says taxpayers should be concerned if the monitoring ends because they have paid about $19 million in damages to minorities whose rights were violated.
Among them were four young men who were traveling in 1998 to a basketball camp in North Carolina when troopers fired upon their van, wounding three of them.
"In a sense it's a coup," he
"We can't have the state police out of control."
was never stopped on the turnpike because troopers don't look for "a short, chubby Jewish white person."
William H. Buckman is Certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Criminal Trial Attorney.
Designated NJ Super Lawyer
William H. Buckman