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Patrick Duffy, Trial Lawyer, Truth Speaker, Dies at 58

Rapid City lawyer Patrick Duffy died yesterday. Here is KOTA’s brief account of Duffy’s illustrious career of defending underdogs:

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The first time I played the video, KOTA followed its somber obit with a shouting and unpausable promotion for a local production of Nana’s Naughty Knickers. If any quantum fluctuations from Patrick Duffy’s brain waves still flicker through the material cosmos, I hope they quiver with laughter at this unfunereal juxtaposition.

I never had the pleasure of Duffy’s legal services or the certain terror of his opposition in the courtroom. Duffy occasionally boosted the IQ of this blog 10 points with well-informed critiques of South Dakota’s corrupt Department of Social Services, the SDGOP’s abuse of redistrictingopponents of paid circulators for ballot measure petitions, anti-Catholic bigotry, and the mindless politicization of Roe v. Wade. He took time post-Ferguson to help readers here understand the grand jury process. He was a valuable ally in the fight to hold Mike Rounds and Joop Bollen accountable for their crimes against South Dakota in their EB-5 get-rich scheme.

But Duffy was no echo-chamber blog-booster—he criticized me for making blog fodder of a Mike Rounds family Christmas card. His final substantive comment challenged our knee-jerk anti-plutocracy and defended T. Denny Sanford:

Much ado about nothing.

Sanford is the greatest philanthropist in South Dakota history and one of the most generous the nation has ever seen, if one measures the staggering size of his contributions against his total net worth. He gives. A lot. And his gifts are unquestionably meaningful in their positive impact upon our community.

I have no stake in this fight other than my perception of what is good for South Dakota. Mr. Sanford wouldn’t know me if he tripped over me. He’s not a client and may not share my opinion on every political issue I could describe. But I can see that his contributions to South Dakota, and particularly to Sioux Falls, are staggering, in that same way I have repeatedly saluted Steve Hickey, whom I like and respect but from whom I might part company on some political issues. To denounce what Mr. Sanford’s done as some sort of “corporate takeover of America” seems ludicrous to me, almost jealous in its intensity, as though we’d all be better off if he bought a big yacht and a small island and lived out his lift like a Millennial Billionaire.

When I was growing up one of the worst things my father might suggest about you was that you were “the dog in the manger.” That one made us wince because the dog in the manger was the one who couldn’t eat the hay but wouldn’t let the horse eat it, either.

Let’s heed the Aristotelian maxim and not let the perfect become the enemy of the good [Patrick Duffy, comment, Dakota Free Press, 2015.05.08].

Last November, is response to Stace Bare’s stirring TEDx talk about the importance of venturing outdoors, Duffy commented that the courtroom does for him what the outdoors do for Bare. I asked Duffy to elaborate.

I am saying that to be in the center of the raging maelstrom that is a jury trial elevates all of us real trial lawyers to a form of “super citizenship,” to a place where the hoary bromide to “speak truth to power” comes absolutely alive for those willing to cross that threshold and meet real power on its own terms.

Mine has been a rich life. I was trained as, and became a fluent translator of Russian for the Navy’s intelligence input into the larger intelligence umbrella. I debated in college, played college basketball, won a college boxing title, worked as a stockbroker for a national firm, worked for a New York investment bank, had a short stint on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, all before I went to law school. From the thrill of knocking a man down in a boxing ring to winning a debate round to making a long jump shot, none really compare to the rapture of being a trial lawyer.

Best of all, I’ve got seven sons and nine grandchildren and a wife whom I venerate as the center of my life.

But I fear that I am never perhaps as fully alive as I am in the courtroom. I’ve done seven figures of pro bono work in environmental litigation, ballot access cases, tried back-to-back the two longest Voting Rights cases in U.S. history, murder, rape, death penalty, securities, anti-trust, medical malpractice, commercial litigation, shareholder disputes, all of it, and have seen and felt the entire gamut of pain, nuanced emotional complexity, triumph and despair that I hoped to see firsthand when I graduated law school almost thirty years ago.

Mine is a catbird seat to history.

The drug that courses through your body when you stand up to cross-examine, when you’ve memorized all you need to know to take and maintain total control and dominance over another human being in the courtroom, is the finest drug one can imagine. It rips through one like pain, makes your hair stand up on end, and at times makes you want to cry out for sheer joy.

It is an existentially risky way to live one’s life.

Power loathes truth, and often cannot bear those who speak it, and one cannot blame them for that. As Thomas Jefferson once said, every time a jury speaks it’s like a little revolution.

Trying lawsuits nearly kills me and yet rejuvenates me at the same time [Patrick Duffy, comment, Madville Times, 2014.11.19].

Earn power’s loathing. Speak the truth. Live like Patrick Duffy.

Other voices on Patrick Duffy:


  1. Barbara 2015-05-09 08:41

    Just yesterday, correcting a rare typo in one of his compelling posts, Duffy wrote: “Lift” should be “life.” No pun intended.

    What a loss for SD. RIP Patrick Duffy. My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. Steve Hickey 2015-05-09 08:56

    Sad and shocking. I’m glad our lives overlapped a little bit in the last few years. Last time he was in Sioux Falls he stopped by to visit and we covered all the bases of our common interests: state politics, the Church, the Sermon on the Mount, repealing the death penalty, predatory lending and capping interest rates and Native Americans and race relations in South Dakota.

    RIP Pat.

    If I can figure out how, I want to grab the audio of him testifying for us last year on the death penalty repeal. We gave him 3-5 minutes. He took much more which meant our other testifiers didn’t get to speak. It was frustrating for us but now it’s funny to me. It was vintage Duffy. Here is that audio if you want to go to it yourself.

    My plan is to title this audio clip:

    Swimming Laps in Pool of Pig Shit: Pat Duffy on the Death Penalty in South Dakota.

    His testimony starts at 31:31

    It’s worth your time.

  3. Donald Pay 2015-05-09 10:19

    Liz said it, “As long as Pat Duffy was alive, you felt like things were going to be OK.”

    She saw him work one of his environmental cases with me. Call it “The Case of the Louisiana Incinerator,” which is not as celebrated as Pat’s work on the “Lonetree Landfill Never-ending Case.”

    Ronnie Crochet wanted to hoodwink a Black Hills town with a semi-workable, cheap model of a solid waste incinerator. Some local folks got together and hired Pat for probably a quarter of his normal rate, but Pat couldn’t hold himself back just because the folks couldn’t afford him.

    His cross examination of Ronnie was the single best example of someone ending up as a puddle in a courtroom as anything I ever witnessed, in person on TV. Liz recalls that Pat literally lick his lips as he was taking Ronnie apart and putting him on the spit. Ronnie was good eating.

    No citizen ever, ever wins before the Board of Minerals and Environment, but the folks who hired Pat Duffy for a quarter of what he was worth, won. The incinerator never got its permit, but one of the city fathers who supported the incinerator was elected to the state legislature. That, unfortunately, is South Dakota. The bad guys win in the end. Pat loved to battle the bad guys. I got sick of it.

  4. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-09 10:36

    This is a bad surprise. He will be missed in South Dakota. My condolences to his family and friends.

  5. Steve Hickey 2015-05-09 10:47

    Not a typo. He told me his wife took a new position in Sioux Falls so they were moving here as his practice could be done from either side of the state.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-09 11:39

    I will treasure that typo and correction.

    Life should be lift.

  7. Bill Fleming 2015-05-09 11:53

    Duffy was one of a kind, larger than life with a blistering wit and a way of convincing you might be wrong even when you know for sure you’re right. I have a few heroes and Pat is one of them. I hope the knows it. God speed little brother.

  8. Phil Schreck 2015-05-09 12:25

    Woah, this is the first I’ve heard of this. I never had the pleasure of meeting Patrick but I always liked what I’d read and seen of him. Way too young.

  9. Les 2015-05-09 12:57

    I am saddened. The loss of Duffy leaves such a void in the protection of human rights in SD.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family, Patrick.

  10. Mark Vargo 2015-05-09 13:12

    He represented the art of persuasion in its most visceral, passionate, honest form. We locked horns more times than I can count, and always left the arena with a sincere handshake. We will all miss what he brought to the courtroom. I will also miss my friend.

  11. m 2015-05-09 13:21

    As a non-invasive species from out of state,I feel honored that Duffy’s last two posts at DFP followed mine and was tangentially referred to in Duffy’s post.

    Co.ndolences to the Duffy family

  12. Padraic Duffy 2015-05-09 13:31

    Thank you for this. In a time of indescribable sadness and loss, this was a little bit of salve on a gaping wound.

  13. Nick Nemec 2015-05-09 15:55

    Padraic, I’ve known your dad for over 40 years and always enjoyed our too infrequent visits. Please accept the heartfelt condolences of the Nemec family.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-09 16:31

    I feel tearful, and I had no personal connection with Mr. Duffy other than shared beliefs and conversations in these comment sections. I too feel something very good has gone out of SD. In my mind, he was a Ted Kennedy-esque Lion of SD.

    Prayers and heartfelt sympathy to the Duffy family and all those who loved and will miss Patrick Duffy. Truly Mr. Duffy, rest in peace for a job well done, Good and Faithful Servant.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-05-09 16:33

    Cory, this is very well written. Thank you.

    DFPers, can we have a group hug?

  16. Ray Tysdal 2015-05-09 16:37

    I was part of group of West River residents who opposed the building of a garbage incinerator in Newell in 1994. Patrick Duffy was contacted for advice on how to best fight this potential environmental disaster. He not only advised us he took us on as clients…entirely pro bono and, as Don Pay (who also supported and fought this fight) said, took on the Board of Minerals (who HAD awarded the permit). His performance at the hearing was pure theatre.
    During that hearing I was seated at a table between Patrick and George Broyles…Patrick on my right and George to my left. As Patrick was deaf in his left ear, and George in his right ear. when I spoke to Patrick during the proceeding he would have to turn his head almost a full 180 degrees to hear and when I spoke to George HE would have to turn HIS head 180 degrees to hear. We decided that everyone behind us probably thought we looked like a bunch of owls.
    When I asked Duffy why he would take our case pro bono he said that when he got to the end of his life he wanted to look back and know that there were times when he had done the right thing for the right reason.
    He had! Thank you Patrick.

  17. Douglas Wiken 2015-05-09 18:22

    Patrick Duffy death is bad news for South Dakota and the unrich and unconnected here will miss him. Most of us will regret that he did not get to live to a ripe old age.

    I only talked to him once, but had noticed he often raised a little good hell in South Dakota politics and government.

    You probably won’t find me writing many good comments about lawyers. Condolences to his family.

  18. Bob Newland 2015-05-09 18:42

    I was able to watch most of the longest criminal trial in SoDak history, when the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research was made a scapegoat in a convergence of a federal crackdown on committing business. Five paleontologists were accused of 153 crimes in the process of picking up rocks.

    Pat Duffy, Bruce Ellison, Ron Banks, George Grassby, and Randal Connelly represented the five accused. They appeared in front of Richard Battey, the most demented and incompetent and mean federal judge who ever disgraced the bench, prosecuted by Bob Mandel and another joke named Zuercher.

    This was in 1994. After three weeks of trial and two weeks of jury deliberation, a few misdemeanors were awarded and one felony was handed out to Pete Larson of Hill City, for declaring “non-negotiable monetary instruments” as non-negotiable monetary instruments (checks brought back from Japan endorsed “for deposit only”). The case was presented so sloppily by the prosecutors that one of the accused was never mentioned during the trial, which Ron Banks pointed out with sarcasm so strong that he was admonished by Battey for pointing out the obvious.

    As a reporter (loosely defined) I hung out with the lawyers in Murphy’s many evenings after the day’s action in court. I was privy to several imaginative descriptions of how the various lawyers would like to end Richard Battey’s miserable existence.

    Duffy told an unrelated story about how, while Bill Porter examined a client of Frank Wallahan on the witness stand, the witness died of a heart attack. Duffy stood in Murphy’s and imitated a chronic cigarette smoker stalking back and forth (Wallahan); “God damn it Porter, I have done some rotten things in my life, but I have never killed one of your clients!”

    Most recently, I talked to Pat concerning a decorated Marine charged in Brookings with possession of “hashish” for possession of some infused cannabis oil being used to treat a chronic medical condition. Duffy was facing off with a dickwad named (no kidding) Clyde Calhoun, who was asking for prison time for this war hero “to save the children” from the scourge of “drugs.” Pat was, as anyone who knew him understands, …uh…, well…, indignant (decorated with expletives), which he let me know in a number of ways over the course of 45 minutes on the phone during which I said nothing (I never had a chance.).

    I shall miss the opportunity for such episodes greatly, as I shall miss Duffy’s occasional masterful setting-of-the-record here on DFP.

  19. Bret Healy 2015-05-09 19:02

    Pat, you are missed. You were a true and fierce advocate for those with little voice. I was honored to have known you.

  20. spike 2015-05-09 19:17

    Rest in peace Pat Duffy. You were one of a kind. Legal and political cronies trembled when they found out Pat was joining the cause. He treated people that deserved respect with respect, if he agreed with them or not. The common people of South Dakota lost a true champion. And he loved his family. God has a great guy on his staff now.

  21. Patrick Ginsbach 2015-05-09 19:18

    Dakota Free Press’ article on Pat was very well done, and I enjoyed all the comments. Pat Duffy took tough cases and unpopular cases. He will be missed. I am disappointed that he never ran for the legislature or for Attorney General.

  22. OJ Semans 2015-05-09 19:44

    I first met Pat in 1997 when he represented my son, then a 16 your old. I remember the first letter he wrote to the Defendants and it was exactly what I was thinking but didn’t know you could do that. He spoke and fought not like he was representing the victim but he was the victim. From that day forward I not only he had my respect as a professional and also someone who really understood.

    It was years later we met again this time on the battle over equality for equality at the ballot box and even though it was some 5 years later I still saw the passion in his work. He went on to shaking the confidence of those who thought they could do what they were doing with no consequences, he changed history as we knew it.

    I considered Pat my friend who always answered my call never considered my questions dumb and guided me through my doubts.

    My heart goes out to his family, his wife, children and his brother John who I also have great respect for. My heart is heavy because of the loss of part of my family and that can not even come close to those that shared his life everyday.

    My prayers are with Pat’s family and friends and although my words cannot replace your loss I pray they bring you some comfort in knowing during his life he changed history and lives for the better.

    God bless

    OJ, Barb and family

  23. MD 2015-05-09 22:56

    To be honest, I didn’t know him, I probably ran into his work on multiple occasions, but as a person I didn’t know him from Jack. But, I was quite moved by that comment at the end of your post. It would be nice if something like that could be included in a eulogy.

  24. grudznick 2015-05-09 23:06

    Mr. Duffy was a swell fellow. I am surprised he didn’t try and ply Clyde Calhoun with a doobie to fix his blindness. Because Clyde Calhoun is blind, and a good lawyer like Mr. Duffy would have known that.

  25. Bob Newland 2015-05-10 01:43

    Grudznick is a POS, and his posting here exhibits that with illumination.

  26. Bob Newland 2015-05-10 01:47

    Duffy never ran for political office because, in my opinion, he understood that such an action would have demeaned his beliefs that the oppressed deserved better representation than that illustrated by those who want to push people around.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-11 07:11

    The Pierre Capital Journal reprints Patrick Duffy’s comment above on the rejuvenation he found in the courtroom. It also prints this 2006 comment from Duffy on his career choice:

    “I wanted to do something with my life that was going to make a difference, a big difference I hope, in other people’s lives and in society itself…. And I wanted a job – a job every day – that allowed me to draw on the athletic competitions that I have participated in. And there’s probably no business that’s more competitive and more like sport than being a trial lawyer.

    “I mean it’s pretty hard to take anything for granted when you try lawsuits for a living. It’s like getting the ball on the baseline and getting ready to drive to the basket. You better be ready all the time. And that’s one thing I wanted out of life, was a competitive way of living and expressing myself to the world” [Patrick Duffy, quoted in “Patrick Duffy, Noted Sd Trial Attorney & Ft. Pierre Native, Dies in Sioux Falls Home,” Pierre Capital Journal, 2015.05.10].

  28. mike from iowa 2015-05-11 07:47

    Or a career that is more villified by rwnj than trial lawyers and tort cases.

  29. Peter Larson 2015-05-11 09:18

    Patrick was the voice of the little guy, defender of the constitution, an intellectual; he was uncompromising, truthful, never quiet, opinionated and an extraordinary trial lawyer – second to none. He loved his wife, his family, his friends and his work. He was my hero, my champion, my brother and my friend. I can’t believe he is gone.

  30. Bob Newland 2015-05-11 09:55

    “rwnj”?? “Running with no job?” “Remaining with no jackpines?” “Risking when never jerked?”

  31. Kurt Evans 2015-05-11 10:48

    If you’re really asking, Bob, “right-wing nutjobs” would be my guess.

  32. larry kurtz 2015-05-11 11:11

    Pete Larson: thank your comment. We are working to free you from your shackles.

  33. mike from iowa 2015-05-11 14:11

    right wing nut jobs-one small step up the food chain than wingnuts. Wingnuts are the most extreme form of rwnj.

  34. Mark Vargo 2015-05-11 14:31

    From Dan Duffy, Pat’s brother:

    The wake is Friday night, May 15, at 7:00 pm at St. John’s Catholic Church in Ft. Pierre. There will be public viewing from 4-7 pm, prior to the wake.

    The funeral Mass is Saturday, May 16, at 1:00 pm at Parkview Gym in Ft. Pierre, with a luncheon at the Community and Youth Involved Center following the burial.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-05-11 16:02

    Mark, thanks for the schedule of services. I suspect it’ll be a full house.

  36. happy camper 2015-05-11 17:04

    I wrote a letter to him back in March thanking him for taking a tough case for someone who needed representation and included a relatively small check for his client’s expenses. Then I questioned it being appropriate and didn’t mail but wish now I had done so. Not many people have the guts to take such unpopular cases knowing there will be equally unfavorable consequences yet this is just what we need, and I wondered and somewhat assumed he took the case because he doubted what was being said and the public judgements being made, although on that it’s hard to know.

  37. Rorschach 2015-05-11 20:06

    May his sins, merely venial in nature, be burned away leaving only a solid gold block that is his soul. And may he spend eternity raining down upon the devil legal arguments from above.

  38. Frank Bettmann 2015-05-12 15:32

    Rest in peace, Patrick. I’m saddened as well by your early departure. I always enjoyed our occasional but not nearly frequent enough encounters or collaborations, whether for mutual clients or otherwise. You left a loud impression in your wake but it was unquestionably a good one. We will all hope the ripples last awhile. All the best to your family.

  39. leslie 2016-03-29 15:31

    cory, just a little aside enhancing my understanding of Pat’s work for SDDP on EB5, and then the odd Hockey choice. Bill Porter, now there was a lawyer, Pat mentioned in the article below.

    hockey is apparently a very big deal for a small % of Lakota people in the Porcupine area so the Allen 57 attendance at the Civic Center that fated beer-slinging night was likely not fortuitous.

    Butch Mouseau, Lakota Ice Hockey Official

    My kids know and love Pat’s kids.

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