Friday, July 25, 2008

It's depressing to be a public defender right now. It's always an ongoing battle to be adequately supported, but it never seems to get any better. Our case loads always remain too high so we can't work on any of our cases as thoroughly as we really should to provide the best representation we can. Which is all just fine since we are underfunded, so we can't afford to do the work we don't have time to do. Finding experts and really challenging the state's forensic evidence takes the two things we don't have: time and money. So it just doesn't get done.

And that makes the job of the appellate attorneys easier because there will be fewer issues to brief since motions weren't filed and objections weren't made. Which saves more money for the taxpayers because then those issues will just never take up the time of any court or any court-appointed attorney since defendants are only entitled to counsel at trial and on direct appeal. If those attorneys don't raise an issue, defendants are just screwed unless they can come up with the resources to at least start an ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim on their own. If they can write a persuasive enough IAC motion, they get more free counsel, but how often does that really happen? Definitely in capital cases, but not so much in the lesser cases.

At times, the monumental obstacles facing public defenders overwhelms me. I can't face it, so I just want to go hide under a pile of coats. I threaten to cry. I threaten to chuck it all and go to Vegas to be a go-go dancer. I can't ever really do it, though, because I just am a public defender. I couldn't change that anymore than I could change my skin color or sexual orientation. The worst part is having to watch as other public defenders simply accept the situation without even caring anymore. Some just sigh, or can't even muster the energy for that sigh. They just continue on processing cases, without noticing or caring that the 6th Amendment is dying. They have to know they aren't being allowed to fulfill their ethical obligations to their clients and they also have to know that they have given up fighting against the inequities.

I see those pds and I think, "Thank goodness I am this depressed!" Being this depressed is no fun, but I'd take it in a heartbeat over not caring anymore. 'Cause I really don't want to move to Vegas.


Meryl said...

I wonder if you are mistaking lack of reaction with lack of caring. I think that just because people aren't as vocal as you are, doesn't mean they don't care. And is being depressed about it really helping the situation? Isn't the better solution to channel your energies into fighting like hell in every way you can to change things? (Not saying that you don't do that also, because I know you do.)

Ha! And a go-go dancer! :)

S said...

I think there are a few who really have given up the fight completely and are just going through the motions now. (I didn't intend that pun, but it works!)

And of course you're right that being depressed doesn't help anything, except it does let me see how much I do care, which is good. I also think letting myself give into the depression for a day or two helps me work it out of my system.

Language Lover said...

Much of that post could have been written by me if you'd replaced "public defender" with "anti-racism activist". Oh, and deleted the part about being a go-go dancer. :)

Standing up for the oppressed is exhausting and depressing. There's so much work to do and so much opposition to your work (which leaks over into opposition to you as a person). FWIW, when I get depressed, I think about you, and you inspire me to keep going. (I'm still tremendously proud and humbled when I remember you saying to me, "The Constitution is not a technicality! Way to put me in my place. :) )

I encourage you to seek support among others who are dedicated to justice---public defenders and otherwise---so you can remind each other why you do what you do, and retain the hope for a better world. Hugs.

Unknown said...

I had a day like this today. A client with an open case that clealy should not have been filed, a child abuse case in which everyone involved acknowledges her only culpability in comes from the fact that she left the kid at home with the shitbag dad, CPS declines to open a depenedency case, the DA files anyway, but since my girl's on felony probation, now she is in custody on a no bail probation violation hold and he is at home with the kids...probably neglecting them again. I explained this to the DA, the probation officer, the judge, the CPS caseworker. Everyone's response was essentially: "yeah, but it's a probation violation, so there's no bail."

It would be a lot easier to not care, but then you'd be one of the people who don't care. I always revert back to my favorite quote of all time, from James Baldwin, which goes something like: "people pay for the lives they lead, and moreover for the people they allow themselves to become; and they pay simply by the lives they lead."

A Voice of Sanity said...

Finding experts and really challenging the state's forensic evidence takes the two things we don't have: time and money. So it just doesn't get done.
Have you considered trying to find non lawyer volunteers?

Miss Conduct PDX said...

I'll tell you how I handle it.

I take as long as I need on each and every case. I figure that if the system is going to overwork me and underpay me, they're going to wait for me.

It's pretty damn amazing how well this approach actually works. I point out to judges that we can either wait and try the case once or we can try it immediately with ineffective assistance of counsel and then try it again in a few years when the PCR court agress with me.

At a certain point, the system keeps churning along because we accept that it does. You know, it only churns along with the help of public defenders.

Resist, I say! Take the time to do your research, talk to your client and his family, hug your kids (in my case they all have fur), play sports, and be with your family.

That's how I remain happy doing this job, and I am very, very happy. Sure, sometimes I rail against the darkness, but I can do it constructively with a smile on my face.

If you're doing this job and you're constantly depressed, you're not going to be a help to your clients in the long run.

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