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San Diego, CA 92101
TEL: 619·234-8467

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FAX: 619·687-2666

1699 W. Main St. Suite D
El Centro, CA 92243
TEL: 760-335-3510

Toll Free: 877-404-9063
FAX: 760-335-3610

About Us
About Ben Rayborn

In Loving Memory of Ben
One of John Cleary's greatest legacies and gifts to FDSDI was introducing the federal defender family to Benjamin Franklin Rayborn. More knowledgeable about the law than many lawyers, Ben worked at FDSDI for over thirty years. As the chief research assistant, he participated in writing thousands of briefs. His legal education was the product of his own experiences in prison.

Ben was an unlikely hero. J. Edgar Hoover once dubbed him "the worst gangster to come out of World War II." Indeed, by age twenty-one, Ben led a gang of armed bank robbers who called themselves the Bennie-Denny gang. In 1946, still only twenty-one years old, he was convicted of bank robbery and received a life-sentence from the state of Kentucky. The next year, the federal government increased that sentence when it prosecuted him for federal firearms offenses and sentenced him to thirty years.

Ben began serving his sentence in the custody of the Kentucky state prison authorities. It was in prison were Ben learned how unjust the "justice" system could be. The prison had no plumbing facilities, the food was inedible, and the prison guards were allowed to beat the prisoners. In fact, the prisoners were not even allowed to have law books. In 1952, Ben led a prison riot to protest these conditions and was quickly classified as being "incorrigible." Kentucky became so concerned about Ben's influence, that it transferred Ben out of its custody and into federal custody.

Ben arrived at Alcatraz in 1952. A model prisoner, Ben began working in the prison library and eventually became a prison administrator. It was at Alcatraz that Ben's legal training began. Self-taught, Ben became the consummate "prison lawyer." He helped inmates write motions, petitions and writs, successfully helping hundreds of prisoners to get different types of post-conviction relief. Eventually, Ben was able to reduce his own federal sentence from thirty to twenty years and successfully argue that Kentucky had relinquished jurisdiction over him such that it could not force him to complete his state sentence.

After Ben's release from custody, he was re-arrested and convicted in Tennessee for bank robbery. Again, Ben was able to reduce his own sentence from eighteen to ten years and again he helped hundreds of prisoners get post-conviction relief. Ben began teaching his fellow inmates Constitutional law and also taught inmates how to pass the high school equivalency exam. His work helping inmates brought him into contact with John Cleary who was so impressed with his work that he offered Ben work at the Legal Assistance to Inmates Program at Emory University. Eventually, Ben was released into John Cleary's custody. When John Cleary moved to San Diego to head the newly-formed Federal Defender office, he convinced Ben to join him in fighting for indigent clients.

At Federal Defenders, Ben worked as Chief Legal Research Associate from 1971 until he retired in 2004. He wrote hundreds of briefs for appeals in the Ninth Circuit, as well as in the Supreme Court. He helped train, guide and inspire the attorneys that worked at Federal Defenders. Ben was indispensable in shaping Federal Defenders and in cementing its national reputation. Unfortunately, a week after he retired from FDSDI, Ben passed away. He will always be remembered for his generosity and his spirit.


*The material found on this Web site is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered to be legal advice and is not guaranteed to be complete or up to date. Use of this Web site is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between the user and Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.. (FDSDI) or any of the firm's attorneys. Readers should not rely upon or act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. See full disclaimer.