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The Homeless Lawyer Who Graduated Harvard Law with Justice Roberts

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 15, 2015 12:39 PM

John Roberts and Alfred Postell both graduated Harvard Law School in 1979. After graduation, Roberts went on to clerk for Judge Friendly, while Postell practiced tax law in a prestigious firm. Their lives diverged as they advanced. John Roberts became Deputy Solicitor General, a Supreme Court litigator, federal judge, and eventually Chief Justice. Postell was overtaken by schizophrenia. He lost his job and his home.

The two still remain close, at least physically. While Chief Justice Roberts sits on the Supreme Court bench, Postell spends his days homeless on the streets of D.C., just a block from the White House and a short walk away from the Supreme Court.

From Harvard Law to Homelessness

Alfred Postell's life was recently covered by The Washington Post in a piece that is, to put it lightly, a bit of a tear jerker. Postell spends his days on 17th and I St., N.W., right on the margins of D.C.'s K. Street firms, global financial institutions, and seats of government. His presence -- and story -- go largely unnoticed.

That changed slightly after Postell was arrested for unlawful entry. He was arraigned in front of D.C. Superior Court Judge Thomas Motley, who, like much of D.C., was also an HLS grad. Motely recognized his former classmate, a recognition the press soon picked up on.

A Successful Career Cut Short

There are thousands of homeless men and women in the District. The homeless population keeps growing, outnumbering the 4,000 shelter beds available. Many of the long term homeless, such as Postell, suffer severe mental disorders.

Postell's schizophrenia crept up on him unexpectedly, according to family and former colleagues interviewed by the Post. The son of a seamstress and carpenter, he put himself through college, grad school, and law school. Before law school, Postell excelled as an accountant. After graduating HLS, Postell's accounting background and Masters in economics led him to Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge, who had recently failed spectacularly to recruit future Justice Sotomayor. Postell worked in tax law, as the firm's only black lawyer.

His career was cut short by a rapid mental decline. As Postell describes it:

You get into a firm, it's prestigious. And when you lose that position, it's like suicide. It's all over. It's atrophy. Or as accountants say, it's to be obsolete. You know what that means? Obsolescence. Beyond your useful life. I was beyond my useful life.

Not everyone agrees. Postell is currently working with a mental health team while his mother raises money to get him off the street. In the meantime, he remains just a stone's throw from his former classmate on the Supreme Court.

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