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Honoring Micheal Millman

Honoring Micheal Millman

Death Penalty Focus honors Michael Millman with the Lifetime Achievement Award

At their 23rd Annual Awards Dinner on April 15, 2014, Death Penalty Focus presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Michael Millman.  Michael Millman has been the executive director of the California Appellate Project for the past 30 years, and is also a founding member of Death Penalty Focus.

Excerpts from Michael Millman’s acceptance speech follow:

When I received Mike Farrell’s email telling me that I had won this amazing award, I broke into tears for two reasons: Why me? And Why now?

Why these feelings? I had just been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

I did not think I would even be able to attend this dinner. Now I would have to give an acceptance speech – which blessedly, will be short.

So how did I end up here tonight?

Because of Susan Kwan, who we also honor here this evening. The day before Mike’s email arrived, I went to a wonderful celebration of Susan’s life at the Presidio in San Francisco. Some of you here tonight were there.

We heard about Susan, and her life’s work was described and praised: that we live to do good things for other people because we want to do them; that she left us a legacy of believing in the worth of all people; that her work was not about her, but about making life better for others. As Bob Sanger said that afternoon, "Our job is to leave the world a better place." …

Our courage, our hopefulness, our strength, we catch them from each other…

I am also here today because of Ruth Steiner, Jon Steiner’s mother, and Margarita Rosenthal, who taught me how to die with courage and grace. It is from others that we learn how to live and how to die.

25 years ago we created Death Penalty Focus. Originally, we thought we would form a Lawyer’s Committee against the Death Penalty, but we quickly realized lawyers are not where it’s at. We needed to reach people, and to accomplish that, we needed a broad based coalition. The result was Death Penalty Focus…

And yet, lawyers have played an important, constructive role by litigating death penalty cases as tenaciously as possible, case by case. We have not gone gentle into that good night. We do not roll over. We refuse to accept any case as "clearly a death case." Instead, we have tried to litigate every case as vigorously as we can. After all the litigation, all the money spent, and the almost 1,000 people sentenced to death, California has executed 13 people in the last 47 years.

We did that, and I am deeply honored to receive this award for the work my colleagues and I have done in litigating against the death penalty.

But that said, out courtroom work is not enough. We must have the political will to end the death penalty…

How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?

I had hoped, I had believed, that I would see the end of the death penalty in California in my lifetime. Now I know that probably will not happen, although I believe, b’emuna shlama, with absolute faith, that it will happen soon. And so I ask you to make it happen as quickly as you can. The death penalty is wrong. In
Reverend Glenda Hope’s unflinching words, "The death penalty is a sin."

A few years ago, with a little help from my children, I made a button that reads: "The America I believe in does not torture or execute people." The death penalty is not who we are, or at least, not who we should be…

Michael G. Millman,
March 15, 2014