Former defender Blake Martin dead at 67

August 22, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Blake Martin, Franklin County's first public defender and a mentor to local attorneys and judges, died late Thursday morning. He was 67.

A known and respected fixture in the local legal circle, Martin practiced law up to the end as an associate in the Chambersburg law firm of David C. Cleaver and Associates, P.C.

The Franklin County Bar Association appointed Martin, a Chambersburg native, as public defender in 1967. He retired in October 1993.

"Blake was one person who truly did care about the outcome of his clients," said attorney Jim Reed, who worked alongside Martin at the law firm.


Clients, even those in jail, often stayed in touch with Martin, who treated them as people, not names and numbers, Reed said.

Martin was known for saying that he practiced law "down in the trenches" because "that's where they need us," Reed remembered.

Franklin County District Attorney John F. Nelson, who had known Martin for nearly 20 years, said he was the type who would just stop in and say hello.

"He was a good, kind-hearted person, a gentleman who was fun to be around," Nelson said.

As a young attorney, Nelson said Martin treated him with the same respect as everyone else and he had many friends in the courthouse.

"He was a good man and he'll be sorely missed," Nelson said. "It's a sad day for the county."

Franklin County Judge Douglas W. Herman worked as an assistant to Martin in the public defender's office in 1978.

"He was a close, personal friend. But everyone remembers him as being an extremely competent attorney," Herman said. "He was always known as extremely learned in the law."

Martin was often called upon to comment on current issues in the criminal justice system locally and on the state level, Herman said.

He also is responsible for giving a lot of young attorneys a "shove," or the opportunity to further their practice in law by giving advice, on-the-job training and exposure to the court, Herman said.

Franklin County Judge William H. Kaye also worked as an assistant to Martin from 1975 to 1977.

"I learned an awful lot from him," Kaye said, adding that Martin had a good knowledge of criminal law and "a way" with clients.

"He was just a great guy, a great teacher and a good friend," Kaye said.

The sensational cases of two of Martin's former clients, Gary Rock and Merle Unger, were among those that grabbed national headlines.

Both were convicted of murder, Rock for the deaths of his neighbor and the local fire chief, and Unger for the death of an off-duty Hagerstown police officer.

Martin leaves his wife, Virginia "Ginny" Martin. The couple would have celebrated its 40th anniversary on Sept. 15.

"He was a great guy. He was my lover and best friend," Ginny Martin said.

Both attended Chambersburg High School, where they became sweethearts, she said.

After high school, Martin attended Shippensburg University and Dickinson Law School.

"Nothing was too little for him. He liked to help people. He loved people," his wife said.

Funeral arrangements by Robert G. Sellers Funeral Home are incomplete.

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