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Lowell J. Myers, 76: Deaf Lawyer and Advocate for Deaf People
Lowell J. Myers, who lost his hearing at a young age but found in himself a strong, unwavering voice as a champion for the deaf , the bullied and the underdog, even arguing 17 cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, died Nov. 7, 2006 of a brain aneurysm. He was 76.
Mr. Myers was born in Los Angeles in 1930 to deaf parents and educated in Chicago. He had some hearing until age 10, when he, too, became deaf. That setback, and the adversity faced by his deaf parents, fueled a two-fisted determination to succeed, that resulted in him attending both Roosevelt University (BA) and the University of Chicago (MA) at the same time in order to receive his education.
After graduating with college degrees from two universities simultaneously, he applied to the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. But the dean refused to admit him, saying he feared Mr. Myers, as a deaf person, would not be able to keep up, much less graduate. Were Mr. Myers able to do so, the dean suggested, he would not be able to pass the Illinois Bar Exam, or, if that obstacle was overcome, to practice law in a courtroom.
The dean relented to allow Mr. Myers to attend the law school for one semester - as a trial period. In a foreshadowing of what was to come, Mr. Myers did well at this trial; he went on to graduate second in his class of 80 students, the first deaf student to graduate from the school and one of the first to graduate from law school in the country.
Mr. Myers was also a CPA and worked in the tax law department with Sears, Roebuck & Co. for 30 years, but it was his compassionate work outside of this arena that earned him acclaim.
In his most famous case, he defended a deaf man accused of murder who did not know sign language and could not communicate with anyone. A book about the case, Dummy, was published by the "Book of the Month Club," selling more than 100,000 copies. It was later turned into a TV movie, starring actor LeVar Burton as the deaf defendant.
But it was not only deaf and hard of hearing people that Mr. Myers became an advocate for. He also viewed himself as a voice of reason in defense of those he felt were being bullied or taken advantage of. He successfully sued the Chicago Police Department for the shootings of deaf people, and his efforts resulted in the department instituting training to help officers more effectively work with the deaf.
He argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court 17 times - and never lost! In one of those cases, he represented a group of taxpayers who had been overcharged by the government, and his pleas were so impassioned and his work so extensive in the case, the justices later awarded him legal fees of $90,000, nine times the $10,000 fee he requested.
Mr. Myers used his influence as a legal advocate for the deaf community to write laws to help deaf people that are still being used throughout the United States. His book, The Law and the Deaf, also became a model used by others in foreign countries. A second book detailed how to handle legal cases of police brutality. He also wrote and self-published a student version of The Law and the Deaf that was widely used in high schools for the deaf. The Illinois State Bar Association honored him in 2006 as a "Senior Counselor" for 50 years of service to the profession.
Recently, Mr. Myers moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to be closer to his daughter, Lynda Rae Myers, a deaf social worker, and his grand-daughter, Ariana Myers (deaf), of Takoma Park, MD. In addition to them, he is also survived by his son, Nathan Benjamin Myers of Chicago, who followed his father into law; and two sisters, Jean Markin and Dorothy Doyle of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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