LINCOLN – Patricia Locke is known in the legal community for defending the nun with a gun.
The story of Locke’s defense of a partially deaf and blind 63-year-old nun charged with brandishing a gun at the local fire chief is well known among criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors in Penobscot County.
Locke not only successfully defended Maria Nau, a Greek Orthodox nun from Massachusetts – she also bought her groceries and other supplies before returning the woman to her remote cabin in Lee.
That kind of generosity is no surprise to the people who know Locke, who lives and works in Lincoln. Since hanging out her shingle a dozen years ago, she has won an award for doing free legal work in the area of family law three times – in 1986, 2003 and last month.
“My philosophy is when I say my prayers at night, I like to think – is there somebody I’ve helped today,” Locke, 53, said a few days after she was given the Lew Vafiades Pro Bono Award by the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project. “For the past 27 years, I’ve been able to do that every night of the week.”
The Maine VLP provides assistance regarding civil legal matters to people at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. While defendants charged in criminal matters are entitled to have attorneys appointed by a judge to represent them if they cannot afford to hire them, litigants in civil legal matters are not.
That is one of the reasons that volunteer attorneys such as Locke take cases that range from family to consumer to employment law to benefits and income maintenance, Mary Richardson, director of the organization, said recently.
Locke was raised in southern Maine. She attended South Portland High School with several women who also chose legal careers, including Leigh Ingalls Saufley, the chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“I’ve known Pat since we were both quite young,” Saufley said recently. “It’s a real source of pride to see my colleagues rewarded for undertaking this work while running law offices in rural Maine.
“When people like Pat step up and take on these kind of family law cases, it makes all of us proud.”
In addition to her donated legal work, Locke serves on the boards of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine and the Abnaki Girl Scout Council. She also is a trustee of her church, Lincoln First United Methodist Church, where she occasionally preaches.
Locke attributed her need to give back to the community to her parents.
“I come from good stock,” she said recently. “I’m a first-generation American. My parents are both British. My mom retired from her job on a Friday and went back to volunteer the next Tuesday.”
Locke majored in psychology at the University of Maine before earning her law degree from Western New England Law School in Springfield, Mass., in 1978. Her first job was working as a prosecutor in the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office.
She left there to open her own office in Lincoln in the mid-1990s. That’s when she encountered the nun with a gun.
Locke was appointed to represent Nau in August 1994 after the nun was arrested for allegedly brandishing a starter pistol at Lee Fire Chief Jay Crock when he went to her remote cabin to check on a brush fire. He found that Nau was burning brush without a permit.
Locke successfully defended Nau, but the attorney’s relationship with the woman did not end when the case was closed. Three months later, Locke gave up Thanksgiving with her family and her mother-in-law’s homemade ravioli to return Nau to her convent in New York state.
Locke made the 1,000-mile round trip to New York, getting lost in New Jersey after she missed an exit.
“She walked from Springfield [Maine] to Lincoln to tell me she was leaving,” Locke said about Nau when she accepted the award last month. “She wasn’t sure how she was going to get there. I couldn’t let her walk.”