Dan McManus Sees All Sides

One lawyer’s journey from prosecution to defense

Published in 2010 New England Rising Stars — November 2010

Criminal defense attorney Daniel McManus never knows exactly what the prosecution is thinking during a trial. But he usually has a hunch. He used to be on that side himself.

Before joining Barr, Sternberg, Moss, Lawrence & Silver in Bennington to focus on criminal defense, McManus, 35, served as a deputy state’s attorney. The position thrust him into some of Vermont’s biggest criminal trials.

Under the mentorship of David Fenster, McManus was prosecuting the state’s most atrocious crimes by the end of his tenure.

It was with Fenster in 2005 that McManus successfully argued to convict high-profile sexual predator Barry Babson. “I prepped more than I had ever prepped for a trial before,” he says. “The case really resonated with me because I didn’t second-guess myself and I pursued my case fully.”

But, after cases, something often would weigh on McManus. “If someone’s a predator, you have a duty to try to protect the public,” he says. “But at the same time, if they’re not, someone’s life can be ruined and an innocent person can go to jail for a very long time. That’s the part that I always found difficult and stressful.”

And that’s what McManus couldn’t avoid taking personally. So when his daughter, Aislinn, was born, he left his public role to join Barr Sternberg, which boasts a reputed criminal practice.

Now McManus gets to foster relationships with those accused. He can delve into the heart of the matter and the person involved. “I really feel a strong connection with my clients,” he says. “The thing that the defense side has brought to me is compassion and empathy for folks that are in some tough spots and maybe don’t have all the advantages that I had growing up. More often than not you’re representing a decent person who’s just made a bad mistake and it’s important in my view that they get treated fairly.”

Two years after the Babson case, McManus returned to the state Supreme Court, this time at a client’s side. Jon Hoffman was charged with aggravated domestic assault, sexual assault and voyeurism, accused by his fiancée and ex-wife. He’d admitted to domestic violence but said the rest was vengeful fiction. “We demonstrated beyond doubt that the complaining witness was lying about some key facts,” says McManus. “People lie, it’s a fact,” he says. “Here, the prosecutor knew that the complaining witness was less than truthful, yet they still insisted on going forward against my client with tremendous vigor.”

Having worked both sides, McManus found that strategy troubling. But still, he says he has faith in the system. “What this case, along with the Babson one, taught me was that the system is not perfect. But it’s the best system we have.”

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