Thursday, September 16, 2010

I think it's fairly obvious to all that I've been in quite a funk since the end of March.  There have definitely been days, nights, weekends when the funk could only properly be called depression.  I haven't always eaten very well or kept the fridge stocked with edible items.  (Upside: I've lost 17 pounds!)  I haven't been so good at washing the dishes or doing laundry.  (Upside: my compulsive purchasing of underwear, pajamas, and jeans is finally paying off because I can get away with not doing laundry for weeks.)  And then there's that academic project I do every April.  This year was definitely my best effort at that project.  I got it done, but it wasn't great.  In general, I've put a pretty damn half-hearted effort into life in 2010.

But I've never put anything less than full effort into my cases, into defending my clients.  Nothing makes me angrier than seeing defense attorneys skip steps, take short-cuts, not cover all the bases.  I know public defenders are over-worked and appointed attorneys are underpaid.  But that's not the clients' faults.  If you can't follow all the steps, review all the material you should, then don't accept the case.  There are no excuses for not giving every case your all.  It's just laziness.  Or arrogance.  Either way, it's unacceptable.  Courts and prosecutors are far too willing to overlook things in pushing our clients' cases through without our help.

If you ever see me not bothering to review every piece of a case, that's when you should truly worry about me.


Miss Conduct PDX said...

Oh, dear.

My understanding is that you do appellate work exclusively, am I right?

I've done both appellate work and trial work as a public defender. The appellate work came first. I remember being amazingly frustrated at how trial attorneys would miss this, or not touch on that at trial when it seemed so OBVIOUS to me that it just should have been done.

Now that I handle trial cases exclusively--and have for short of 10 years--I know that the pressures of a trial make it impossible to preserve every issue, to hold the state's feet to the fire on every point, and to turn over every stone.

I am human, things go by fast in the court room and I do my best.

Sometimes there are legitimate strategic points, that aren't apparent in the record, for not forcing the state to put on evidence of one thing or another. It's not evident on the record because it was a decision made in private consultation with my client and I sure as hell don't want the state to know something or another.

I investigate my cases exhaustively, but sometimes the unturned stone doesn't make it's presence known until trial. Even then, I have a great investigator who does her best, but it might just be too late.

On top of all the trial prep, and client discussions, and work in the courtroom, we are a public defender office. That means that my clients come with a wide range of issues and challenges. They suffer from the day to day challenges of poverty. They come to our office hungry and cold. They come with no money for the bus. They come having stopped taking psychotropic medications or continuting to take illegal street drugs. I deal with these issues, too.

I sit in on psychological evaluations and I track down bus tickets. I find clients a place in treatment programs. I listen when they tell me about problems with their children. When they're in jail I make sure the family knows where they are. I hold them when they cry.

I stand at the side of my client when no one else in the world is there. I'm the only person who is 100% on their side, and I'm proud to do it.

Sometimes, I don't catch every legal issue. I don't argue the motion as well as I should have. I lost that trial because we couldn't find that last witness. I learned to forgive myself for those failures a long time ago. I am human and I am a public defender.

Not to pick a fight or anything, but there you go. It's easy to be a "Monday morning QB" when reading a transcript.

Miss Conduct PDX said...

Oh, PS: I am so sorry for the pain you've suffered this past year. I've been there. It sucks.

At least you have a Cocker Spaniel to greet you at home. I'm a huge Cocker fan, myself.

S said...

The kind of stuff you're writing about is not remotely what prompted this post. You sound like exactly the kind of defense attorney I hope we all are. I was specifically thinking about appellate attorneys who file appellate briefs without reading all of the transcripts. To me, that's just inexcusable.

Miss Conduct PDX said...

OK, yeah. That is inexcusable. Hell, reading transcripts ain't even that hard. Well, it is difficult if they're transcripts of your own argument--I always seem to come off like the village idiot in a transcript.

S said...

We all miss stuff, think of better arguments after the fact, etc. But when we KNOW something is out there and just choose not to look at it, that gets me.

I'm glad I don't have to read transcripts of my oral arguments.

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