I lost a friend today. One I never met in person, but one, who in the past ten years has become a constant and valued presence in my life. My friend is Oktavia Carstarphen. We met, via the internet, on a private attorneys discussion group. When my group of internet women attorney friends sent me my "get well" charms for my strength and health charm bracelet, she chose a 3D model of the earth, which was quite understandable given her life.
Oky, as she liked to go by, was an attorney in Galveston, TX in a solo practice, representing people charged with crimes, probably folks that couldn't afford the fancy priced criminal defense attorneys. Okywas funny and smart and it was clear from her first post in our forum that she was not originally a US citizen because she wrote "Ich bin ein Berliner!" Turns out she was from East Germany, where her father, Georg Dertinger was the first foreign minister in the Communist government, the German Democratic Republic. In 1953, he was arrested for espionage and put on trial in a show trial. Oky, and the rest of her family were arrested and put in prison. Oky was kept in solitary confinement for part of that time. Here is the obituary that was published today in a Galveston neighborhood paper:
Oktavia Carstarphen had been a criminal defense attorney in Galveston for years, after serving her apprenticeship in the District Attorney's office.
She was one of those attorneys who felt it her duty to represent little people -- the people who, whether or not they were guilty, she felt could easily not get a fair trial if they weren't well represented.
She knew what it was like to be incarcerated, and she knew that sometimes poor legal representation was the cause of a guilty verdict.
Before she came to America from Germany, as a teenager she was held as a political prisoner, serving many months in solitary confinement.
And although she never seemed to be able to rid herself of her thick German accent, she was a very effective criminal defense attorney.
For many months Oktavia fought her last battle, this time trying to overcome cancer. This morning she passed away, but not without having left Galveston a better place, and its citizens and most especially other attorneys, a model for appreciating freedom and defending justice.
She was passionate about her clients and her politics. She was a good friend. I will miss her.