Columbia public defender receives award from Missouri Bar

Thursday, October 3, 2013 | 7:31 p.m. CDT; updated 7:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 3, 2013

COLUMBIA- After more than two decades working to get people off death row, the Missouri Bar is honoring Bill Swift with the 2013 Defender of Distinction award. The Bar describes the award as "exemplifying the ideal of public defense."

Swift, of Columbia, is a Missouri public defender specializing in capital post-conviction cases. He argues appeals on behalf of clients already convicted of a capital offense and sentenced to death.

"I think what's most important in capital cases is there should be appropriate review to the processes and procedures involved in trial to be fair to the individual," Swift said.

Before settling into his position as a Missouri public defender in 1989, Swift worked in many other legal capacities including Missouri's Assistant Attorney General and as a Law Clerk for the Missouri Supreme Court. He earned his bachelor of social work in 1980 from Creighton University in Nebraska. He received his law degree from St. Louis University in 1986.

Swift's colleague and a Division Director at the Missouri State Public Defender's Office Greg Mermelstein said he is happy to see Swift recognized for all of his hard work over the past 23 years.

"Bill has worked for two decades on some of the toughest criminal cases in Missouri and has gotten justice for people wrongly sentenced to death," Mermelstein said.

Swift said he is grateful for the honor and wants to continue serving in Missouri's legal system.

"I feel really fortunate to be recognized in the way I have because I work with people who are just as deserving as me," Swift said.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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