Nellie King’s office is decorated with photos of her family. Sprinkled in are pictures of her former clients’ children. King, 47, often stays in touch with them, even exchanging holiday cards every year.
“I have a holistic approach of representing my clients,” says the criminal defense attorney of more than two decades. “I am empathetic; it’s a trait that I add to my work.”
King meets her clients during the lowest points in their lives, and she sees her job as more than just representing them in court with steadfast determination. King helps her distressed clients by guiding them through the system in a just manner.
A Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington) graduate, King grew up in rural Virginia. Adopted by a Catholic school teacher and nuclear engineer, she was raised knowing the importance of a philanthropic mindset. Her family always made room for extra guests at the dinner table, and they even sponsored a family from Vietnam who King still keeps in contact with.
King’s father, Larry, played a significant role in her choice of becoming an attorney. He worked on the Apollo 8 at NASA before he was hired as the plant manager tasked with the cleanup of the infamous Pennsylvania Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in 1979. After experiencing injustices in conjunction with the disaster, Larry became a lawyer at age 60 with the goal to advocate for the innocent.
Throughout King’s career, she’s developed a niche for representing clients with mental health issues and has handled several high-profile cases, including the current case of Austin Harrouff, the 20-year-old Florida State University student accused of the Jupiter face-biting killings in 2016. King also represented Amy Kern when she was charged with killing her grandmother and aunt’s boyfriend in 2009.
King’s commitment to clients and fight for justice comes from her passion for advocacy and volunteerism.
In support of President Obama’s 2014 clemency initiative, King recruited attorneys to draft petitions for inmates sentenced to serve a lengthier time than their non-violent drug offenses deserved. In total, the White House released 1,715 prisoners, including many from South Florida.
This February, King is co-chairing Stand Up for Innocence benefiting The Innocence Project of Florida. Held at the Kelsey Theater in Lake Park, the annual fundraiser’s proceeds enable the organization to fight for the release of people who were wrongfully convicted. In Florida, 16 people, who collectively served more than 300 years in prison, have been exonerated.
King is also active in lobbying for criminal justice reform. She’s committed to the system but acknowledges there is room for modifications. It’s not just about dealing with clients but also championing for change where it’s needed.
“I’m not satisfied with the law just because it’s the law,” she says. “If there’s room for discussion, I want to be at the table and be heard on behalf of the
criminal defense bar.”