Chiquita Biggins was a teenager accused of drowning her newborn baby. Jerry Galloway was an off-duty Macon police officer charged with sexual assault. The two defendants couldn’t have been more different, yet they shared one thing: Sitting at the defense table during their respective trials was attorney Althea Buafo.
The role of a zealous, hard-nosed defender seems incongruous for the soft-spoken, petite attorney. But make no mistake — her passion and dedication combine to make a formidable opponent. “There’s nothing more important in this country than freedom,” Buafo says. “Income, race or gender aside, there’s no distinction of who wants or is entitled to freedom. And sometimes you have to stand to protect those rights.”
Macon, Ga., appears an unlikely spot for a young, eager law school graduate to hang a shingle. The town’s nearly 100,000 residents live in the shadow of its sprawling neighbor, and a popular magazine recently named the self-appointed “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World” one of the best places to retire. But to Buafo it’s home to her mother and father, and a perfect place to build a career.
She blazed her own trail from the start. After graduating from Mercer University in 1987, she decided to go solo. “I didn’t want to be confined or restricted, so I started my own firm,” she says. “It was a tough learning curve at first, but I read a lot, asked plenty of questions and learned lots of humility.”
Now tucked away in a beautifully refurbished 19th-century home near Macon’s business district, her office bustles with activity. After nearly two decades of practice, she’s built an enviable caseload. The work consists primarily of criminal cases, but her firm also handles personal injury claims.
Buafo regularly sits on the other side of the bench as well. She’s a part-time judge in Macon’s Municipal Court and has served as counsel for the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission. Add to that a few stints on Court TV and you have a well-rounded and diverse career.
Buafo, who is one of the higher-profile female criminal defense attorneys in Georgia, claims an 80 percent acquittal rate. Like other attorneys, she has also had her share of unpopular and unsympathetic defendants. Buafo represented Raynard Cook in a high-profile case after the youth was charged with killing his mother, a popular Superior Court judge in Atlanta. She also defended several Georgia militia members against federal charges of conspiring to stockpile pipe bombs.
Buafo doesn’t make much of a distinction when deciding whom to represent, although, among the murderers, drug dealers and batterers, she admits to one prejudice: “I just don’t like thieves,” she says.
And then there’s the Mohawk.
Is it a flamboyant attorney’s defiant strike at an unbalanced system? An angry liberal’s way of snubbing the conservatives? The answer is more practical: A hairdresser fashioned the Mohawk cut after a car accident left Buafo missing large chunks of hair. The cut remains, along with a few braids tossed in, for more economic reasons. “I’ve saved a ton of money in hair care over the years,” she says with a smile.
In her spare time Buafo enjoys being far from the practice of law; she loves international trips. On weekends you’re likely to spot her standing behind her sound system with a big smile on her face, spinning records and rocking out at parties. Yes, Macon’s formidable defense attorney is also one of Macon’s funkiest DJs.
There’s one other passion Buafo confesses to — perhaps a second career possibility. “I’d love to go to chef school,” she admits. “I really enjoy cooking; all the chopping, dicing and mixing. It’s a great way of expressing creativity.”
But the skillet will have to wait, as she sees many years ahead in her legal career. And that’s something many who fall into the criminal justice system will surely be thankful for.
Adversity, says Buafo, is indiscriminate. “Anybody can make a mistake. One mistake can change an entire life. Helping people through these adversities can make a difference in their world. And those are the intangibles that inspire you in this business.”