Politics & Friendship

I have this friend. I've known her for a few years. She's really smart, funny, nice, all of those nice qualities you look for in a friend. Most importantly, she's one of those people that gives everybody a chance and tries to see the good in everyone. I think that's a really admirable quality.

We know some people in common. If I were to ever complain about any of those people (even if they were people she didn't particularly like) she would invariably respond, "Well, maybe she..." and try to come up with some explanation for their actions. In fact, there have been times when I thought she gave people too much benefit of the doubt. Times when she's complained that one of her friends was mistreating her when I've wanted to respond, "Well, if she's treating you like crap, why are you still friends with her?"

Anyway, fast forward to today. Well, last month actually. This friend took a job as a prosecutor. Not just any prosecutor, a child prosecutor. (Meaning that she prosecutes kids, not that she is a kid, obviously.)

Now, one way to look at this is that we're lucky to have someone so compassionate as a juvenile prosecutor. Maybe she'll be one of the few to give kids a chance, try to help them and their families with their problems, and try to give kids alternatives rather than jail.

But, having spoken to her a few times now about her training, I don't see it that way. I think that her new employer and her new workplace will change her and that within a few months on the job she won't be the same compassionate person that she used to be. In fact, maybe she'll be more of a "compassionate conservative," if you know what I mean.

I'll give you an example. We're required to turn over any notes made during any conversations with our witnesses or written statements by our witnesses before a witness begins to testify. For this reason, many attorneys avoid taking notes when speaking to a witness or take notes that are vague at best. Other attorneys take accurate notes and turn them over - what's the harm if your witness isn't going to change his story?

Recently I asked this friend how her training was going, and what she was learning about. She told me that they were learning about getting victim's statements. But, she said, it's very hard because we're not allowed to take any notes.

Well, I told her, you could take notes, you'd just have to turn them over. And, I said, if you're goal is really to fairly prosecute the right person, you would. So, for example, let's take a fairly common scenario that a kid is walking home one night when two other kids come up to him. One starts hitting him and takes his gold chain, the other acts as a look out. You ask him which was which and he says "The kid in the red hat was the one hitting me, the one in the blue hat didn't." Let's say you don't write it down. The only way that benefits you is if the kid changes his story on the stand. Then you could say to yourself, "Gee, I'm glad I didn't write this down, at least now I'll get a conviction on one of the kids." On the other hand, if you did write it, all you're preventing is the wrongful conviction of a kid (they don't call it a conviction, actually, they call it an 'adjudication,' but whatever).

She responded by saying that she was glad that they were training her to be ethical by training them that they would have to turn over anything they write and that they couldn't destroy or conceal any of their notes.

For the past few weeks I've been feeling really conflicted about the whole issue. I had lunch with her the other day and felt like I should avoid talking about my job or her job because it could just create a conflict. And, trust me, it's very hard for me to avoid talking about my job. I also wondered if she would get in trouble if any of her kiddie prosecutor colleagues saw her eating lunch with a defense attorney.

So, what's my point? First, I guess I wonder how much you change your job and how much your job changes you. If I really believed the argument that it's a good thing to have a compassionate friend as a juvenile prosecutor, then I think that, by the same argument, all of my liberal friends would be better off working for the Bush administration or the DAs office or big tobacco - on the premise that they could do more good by making changes from the inside. And, if that's true, then why should I be a public defender? Who needs another liberal public defender? Would I do more good for society as a prosecutor? And would I still be a liberal after a few weeks, months or years in a DAs office? Or would I just be a frustrated and miserable liberal?

Second, is there anything I can do to prevent her from changing? Aside from the intial conversations I discussed above, I haven't really pushed the issue much further. I mean, this is her job. It's not like I expect her to quit or change their entire office policy or be insubordinate because of my views. And I guess I'd rather just keep my mouth shut than ruin our friendship by calling her out on all of this.

And I'm not going to end our friendship just because she likes to lock little kids up in prison (where they learn about worse crimes and then someday they're released to become my clients...). Honestly, is her job morally worse than what my friends at big firms are doing, except that my friends at big firms don't really talk about what they do because it's boring even to them?

Hmmm... I guess at this point I'm just rambling about this. I guess I thought writing about it might help me somehow sort something out, but it doesn't seem to be. So, what about my readers? Any thoughts?


  1. It depends on how much politics you're willing to play, I think. When I interned for a PD, we had a juvenile case we most definitely should have won (only eyewitness/victim mis-IDed our clients). But we weren't winning. And when it looked like the ship was definitely going to sink, my PD made a deal offer: drop the enhancement charge. The little DA wanted to take it (it seemed). But after a long conversation with the big boss, he said no. Kid got convicted (excuse me "adjudged a ward of the court").

    As the little DA, you probably can only do a little. But if you're willing to stay and simmer and play until you become the big DA, then maybe you can do some good. Of course, then you'll be seen as soft on crime and you won't be re-elected...

  2. 1. Just out of curiousity, did your friend set out to be a juvenile prosecutor, or just a prosecutor? I know that in some places, the juvi division is where entry-level prosecutors start and they have to get promoted out of it...

    2. Clearly, you're in a jurisdiction that's never heard of work product (you have to turn in your own notes of your interviews with witnesses? Geesh.).

    3. Ain't nothing you can do to keep your friend from changing, unless she is a) extraordinarily strong-willed and b) extraordinarily gifted. It's be unfair to describe those who work in prosecutors' offices as comprising a monolith, but we all know that prosecutors, after a year or so on the job, take on a certain mind-set and attitudes. And it's very difficult for a pros who doesn't take those on to advance in their careers.

  3. No, in our city, it's a whole different agency that deals with juveniles. Which might be good. Maybe they're a slightly different breed than adult prosecutors. Slightly. Then again, maybe they're worse because they want to put kids in jail.

    I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that my friend is going to turn into a prosecutor type. Which is very sad.

  4. One of my closest, dearest friends in the entire world is a prosecutor. I just talked to her about my child sex case (she is a sex crimes prosecutor) and she was so incredibly helpful. Anyway, she is still incredibly compassionate, will dump a case if it needs dumping, prosecute it if it needs prosecuting. We don't spend a lot of time talking about work, but we do help each other out during the rough points. Maybe she's different. And, maybe your friend is different too. But, acknowledge that initially there will be an adjustment period for her and for you.

  5. Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 requires the "common scenario" prosecutor to disclose the prior inconsistent statement of the witness (it became inconsistent when the witness testified) regardless of whether it was written down.