Judge Gives Teen Drug Dealer Second Chance, Swears Him In As a Lawyer 16 Years Later


In 2005, Michigan judge Bruce Morrow gave a 17-year-old a second chance. Edward Martell had been arrested for making and selling crack cocaine and faced a 20-year prison sentence. But instead of making Martell serve time, Judge Morrow decided to be lenient. He gave Martell three years of probation, and — partly in jest — challenged him to become a CEO.

Martell took that second chance to heart. After serving his probation and earning his GED, he decided to pursue a career in law. And — despite starting as a high school dropout, and staring down 20 years behind bars — Martell was recently sworn into the Michigan Bar.

At no point was it easy. Martell enrolled in Wayne County Community College and was laughed at when he told them that he wanted to study law. “They said with your background, you should go into heating and cooling,” Martell told Deadline Detroit.

He ignored that advice, and three years later he’d earned a full scholarship at the University of Detroit Mercy to study pre-law. Four years after that, he gained entrance into Detroit Mercy’s law school.

Still, a career in law was no guarantee. Martell worried that his criminal record might disqualify him from the State Bar of Michigan, which requires applicants to pass a character and fitness review. “I was chasing a dream with no guarantees,” Martell admits.

But — in part because of testimony from Judge Morrow — Martell did pass the character review. And in May, he was sworn into the Michigan Bar by Morrow himself.

“I think my testimony may provide some of these young men and women with some motivation,” Martell said, referring to his potential future clients. “You plant a seed, and hope it will grow.”

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