News - Capital University Law School

Famed Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian McMonagle Shares Strategies, Advice with CapLaw Students

2/4/2020  -  Renowned criminal defense attorney and Capital University Law School graduate Brian McMonagle, L ’84, began his remarks with a quote, “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’”

McMonagle was the featured speaker for the Schweickart Lecture in Criminal Defense presentation of “Freeing Meek Mill: A Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Role in the Fight for Criminal Justice Reform.”

When McMonagle took the stage, the audience had just finished watching a segment of “Free Meek.” The Amazon Original docu-series, produced by Jay-Z, follows the legal travails of Robert Rihmeek Williams, better known as rapper Meek Mill, and McMonagle’s legal maneuverings to seek justice for Mill.

Despite overwhelming odds, a crooked cop and a Philadelphia judge determined to keep him behind bars for a probation violation, Mill was eventually freed. The process prompted Mill and two of his most ardent supports – Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft – to start Reform Alliance to bring much-needed change to the criminal justice system.

McMonagle, who practices in Philadelphia with the Law Offices of McMonagle, Perri McHugh Mischak and Davis, began his career in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. He has defended numerous high-profile cases involving professional athletes, politicians, entertainment personalities, judges, law enforcement officers and CEOs. Among the clients he has represented are Comedian Bill Cosby, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, former Montgomery County (PA.) GOP Chairman Robert Kerns and former Pennsylvania Speaker of the House John Perzel. He has been selected as a “Super Lawyer” and a “Top 100 Attorney” by Philadelphia Magazine, and was named “Best Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer of 2015” by Best Lawyers.

McMonagle’s talk and the story of Mill’s treatment held the audience, including CapLaw students and professors, in thrall. One student told McMonagle that cases like Mill’s are the reason he went to law school and asked how he could continue to push for system reform. McMonagle said the need is obvious, but how to achieve it is another question. “It’s not that criminal justice is failed, it just doesn’t work,” he said. “Forget Meek Mill who has the resources. What about Joe Nobody?”

CapLaw Dean Rachel M. Janutis said McMonagle was a natural choice for the lecture series. She noted that its namesake, Gary Schweickart, L ’74, who passed away in 1990, “had a passion for the Bill of Rights going all the way back to grade school.”

McMonagle offered advice for soon-to-be criminal law attorneys in attendance, citing moot court as “the greatest experience of my law school life.” He encouraged students to attend trials. “Be a gym rat. Go learn. Be a sponge. Soak it up.” Internships also are high on McMonagle’s list. “Go clerk for the DA’s office,” he said. “Heck, go empty trash cans for somebody trying cases. That’s where I learned and I’m better for it.”

McMonagle credited former CapLaw Associate Dean Brian Freeman, who passed away in 2002, for helping him get through law school, both academically and financially. McMonagle had decided to leave law school after his first year due to his family’s financial situation. He didn’t realize until he was about to graduate that Freeman had stepped forward to provide a scholarship allowing McMonagle to continue his education. Freeman’s widow and son attended the lecture.

Even with someone in your corner, McMonagle told the students that at times they are going to get knocked down and feel like they can’t get up. He reminded them of the second half of author Jake Remington’s famous quote: “… but, the warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”