Jones' style, legal skills 'not your grandaddy's lawyering'
Between court appearances in Washington and Beaver counties, attorney Blaine Jones receives a text message from a frantic mother whose son was Tased by a cop and bitten by a police dog.
“The family is scrambling,” said Jones, 35, of Robinson, who seems to be doing the same lately.
“This is the type of stuff I get all the time. I get phone calls at 2 in the morning. This is the life.”
He spoke with a grandmother and planned a meeting with the family, adding another client to a growing list he says is approaching 10,000 in the eight years he has practiced criminal law. More and more, Jones is showing up on TV alongside suspects in high-profile crimes, including the woman accused of stealing a baby from Magee-Womens Hospital and the man accused of holding a businessman hostage in a Downtown office building.
He admits to seeking out the spotlight in his tailored suits and customized cuff links, and some people complain he is showing off for the media.
But a judge who served as a mentor says Jones provides a positive image for young black men who too often show up on TV in handcuffs.
“This is not your granddaddy's lawyering,” Jones said. “This is a new day. Why not get out there in front of the cameras and take control of your case? I'm not shy.”
Jones won his first homicide trial when he was 33 years old.
“He has a maturity about his practice,” said Al Burke Jr., a former prosecutor who left the U.S. Attorney's Office to take a job with Jones' firm in September. “He has a maturity beyond his age, which is rare in any attorney. I felt like he had that rare kind of wisdom about him. I know it's respected by the courts.”
Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani said he was impressed with how Jones handled a homicide earlier this year, even though the suspect was ultimately convicted.
“What I see generally is a guy who is always, always prepared,” Mariani said. “He's always on top of his cases. He leaves no stone unturned. You would think he would have more years at this by the way he handles himself.”
Jones is from Aliquippa, but his father moved his family of four to Moon when Jones was 5 years old.
“We had neighbors that would dump garbage on our lawn,” Jones said. “I remember in first grade being called the ‘N word' and stuff like that. Eventually, that subsided to a certain extent, but it was tough. We were the only black family in the neighborhood, so we would go back to Aliquippa a lot.”
Growing up in the two communities gave him an understanding of the contrast between two very different worlds. He attended Howard University on a soccer scholarship, then law school at Golden Gate University in California before coming back to Pennsylvania. He was one of more than 100 applicants for three open slots in the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office.
“I'm naturally very competitive,” Jones said. “I would run over my own mother to get what I need. I would apologize profusely afterward. I'm just wired that way.”
Jones stayed with the office until 2008, when the married father of three decided he needed to move on. He won a weeklong sexual assault trial, and later that day, reached into his wallet to buy his son a drink while at a soccer game and realized he didn't have a dollar in his pocket.
“And right there I think, ‘I've run my course,'” Jones said. ‘What can I do? I've got three kids.”
He had connected with then-defense attorney Joseph K. Williams III because the two belonged to the same fraternity. Williams, who became a Common Pleas judge, had a law practice on the North Side and he opened the doors to Jones.
“When I saw him with those babies and his wife, that's what caused me to feel committed to helping him,” Williams said. “I identified with that. When I was starting the practice I was in a similar situation. I had a wife and my son, and it was a struggle ... I didn't want him to have the vulnerability I had when I started off my practice. I was really impressed with his commitment and the time he put in.”
Williams says Jones is a role model.
“I think that Blaine is not a lot older than the stereotype of the black male that is the victim of crime or the perpetrator,” Williams said. “He's a nice contrast to the stereotype we have in the media.”
He first appeared on TV when he represented a woman accused of setting her West Mifflin apartment building on fire while trying to heat it. He said his client base snowballed from there.
“Monthly, I'll go through at least 500 cards. At least,” Jones said. “I started doing my picture on the back because I was getting so much media, they'll associate my name with the face.”
A year after convincing a jury in 2009 to acquit James Johnson of Homewood in the killing of Kenneth Alford Jr., the victim's father approached him in Municipal Court with an unexpected request.
“He says, ‘Think I can get your card? My sister has a case. You did a great job, we could use you,'” Jones said.
“He's a good lawyer,” said Kenneth Alford, 60, of North Braddock. “I figured he was doing his job. I thought he did a very good job. He got acquitted, I can't say nothing about it.”
Jones moved into his office in the U.S. Steel Tower last summer, and added Burke to his firm, Blaine Jones Law, to help with the increasing workload in September. He's handled cases in Beaver, Washington, Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene and Allegheny counties, with no lawsuits over his representation, and no discipline from the state Supreme Court. He doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
“I'm not here to be second place to anybody,” Jones said. “I've never felt like I made it. I still don't feel like I made it.
I won't let myself stop.”
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.