More On The PD Article

I want to expand just a little on my earlier review of this article about the Florida PD.

There were things in that I could relate to, and other things that I couldn't. Overall, I like reading about PD work in other places, and how PDs came to be PDs, and about PD work in general. Which is probably part of the reason why we PDs all read each other's blogs.

Like I said earlier, I couldn't really relate to just falling into a job at the PD's office. Here, as in most places, PD jobs are highly sought after positions. And no one is getting hired here if their response to why they want to be a PD is "because the prosecutor's office isn't hiring." But I'm willing to believe that it might happen some places, at least occasionally.

I can't relate to PDs who aren't good lawyers, who don't really care about their clients, or who are just trying to get experience at the expense of their clients. There are some people who come to the PDs office purely to get trial experience, but I don't think it'd be fair to say that they're doing it without concern for the clients. And there are many PDs who make a lifelong career of it and have a great deal more experience than private practitioners.

One of the issues in the article I found interesting was caring whether or not the prosecutors like you, and ganging up on particular prosecutors. I, personally, don't care if any prosecutors like me. But I do care whether or not my word is good. You don't have to like my personality, you can call me a true believer, but no one should ever have any reason to doubt my honesty. There are lawyers in my office who seem to think it's really important to be friendly with the prosecutor's office or to be liked by them. I have prosecutors that I'm friendlier with, but to me, it's more important to be a zealous advocate than to make friends at the prosecutor's office. I've already got plenty of friends.

I can relate to, and had to smile when I read, the awkward Christmas party where it's just so difficult to mingle. If I'm trying to avoid discussing work, what am I going to say? There's nothing I really can say. And it's so hard not to just start spouting off hypotheticals that involve the prosecutors' mothers accidentally or innocently doing the same exact conduct one of my clients is accused of.

I can absolutely relate to the image of looking at yourself in a suit and thinking, "Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer," and of feeling like an imposter. And then the day comes when you think, "Wow, I am a lawyer. And a good one."

I really like the description of the courtroom:
There are TimeMist boxes mounted behind the state and defense tables, which now and then spurt jets of fruity perfume, discoloring the nicked wooden benches below.
While we don't have that in the courtroom, I like the imagery. And we have plenty of courtrooms that could use some time-released air freshener.

I can relate to the first trial. When my supervisor sat next to me and had to whisper almost every word that I then, dutifully, repeated. I wonder now what my client thought of that. We still keep in touch, and I've always thought about asking him, but I know that he doesn't know yet that he was my first trial. Not that he'd mind, given the outcome.

I like the discussion of whether or not to cut the prosecutors a break. Whether to stipulate or make 'em prove it. Of course you make 'em prove it! Every little bit of it. That's what you're there for.

I love this part...
From the defense side, it's easy to despise what seems an air of privilege and hauteur around the opposing table. The young prosecutors believe God is on their side. They relish their power over delinquent kids only slightly their juniors. They possess the sheen of the effortlessly charmed, of straight-A students and future politicians. They aren't driving to work in ratty cars.

Or at least that's how it feels from across the room. It doesn't help that whereas PDs look like ordinary people, by and large, their state attorney counterparts are uncommonly good-looking, the kind that used to make classmates feel weird or fat or gangly. Beating the state becomes sweet on so many levels.
...Because it's true.

Ganging up on a prosecutor? We can gang up and decide to be tougher on someone in particular, but I don't think it's ever gotten to the point that we've made someone cry. At least, not that we know of. We're more subtle. But, for instance, there's a particular prosecutor who quickly became known in our office for not keeping to her end of negotiated bargains. The result? Not a single lawyer in our office will negotiate anything at all with her. Every single one of her cases goes on a trial track, which means many of them get dismissed because she can't try them all. If only she wasn't known as a liar, she'd probably get pleas in some of those cases. But I don't think it's anything personal, I don't think anyone is out to make her feel like shit, but you're really doing a disservice to all of your clients when you waste your time negotiating something that the other side is going to disregard anyway. That kind of cooperation where we can work together to make things difficult for a prosecutor, and that sharing of knowledge, is just another advantage a public defender might have over a private practitioner.

The point here is, I disagree with the basic premise of the article, which is that the PD job is the lowest of the low, reserved for someone who couldn't beg his way into any other job, and who is just there to make a name for himself. I'd really like to think that after a year or two on the job, even if he hasn't "become a True Believer overnight," he has more respect for the job. And it bothers me that a newspaper would choose to run a story when the subject was that type of PD, who is presumably the minority, rather than highlight the many dedicated PDs who aspired to that position. (Although I really liked Milbarge's analysis of why this particular PD was chosen. And he's probably dead on.) But I do like some of the imagery, some of the issues that are universal to being a young public defender. And I think that makes it worthy of printing and reading the next time you're going to be stuck in court waiting for a while. Because there are a few parts that will make you smile, and at least a few parts that will make you remember why you love the job, even if it's not for everyone.

8 comments:

  1. The trouble is that "the public," not knowing any better, is left with the lasting impression of the PD as an incompetent bumbler.
    AF

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  2. Hey there - I'm a public defender in New Hampshire and I agree with you wholeheartedly. In my branch office, there are three attorneys including me. Recently, one of the area prosecutors changed. In NH, police officers can prosecute their own misdemeanors. So, a lot of police departments have one officer thqt does all their prosecuting. So, this guy is new, doesn't know what he's doing and offers "bargains" that are the max for each offense. Our office has made a decision to try every single case, until he gets reasonable. You should see him panic whenever we all walk into court.

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  3. Hey! I think everyone has that feeling of "I'm a fraud" once in a while.

    In my first job out of law school (where I was research assistant to a professor) I couldn't believe that they were going to pay me a 6 figure salary to do exactly what I had been doing a few weeks ago for $8 an hour.

    I also remember whenever I had what a I felt was a really bad fcukup, I would come in wearing a suit and tie the next day because I didn't feel lawyerly in business casual.

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  4. I read the part about the Prosecutors getting straight A's and being good looking and I thought that there was no way that that could be true...

    I mean who would want to be a prosecutor? I could see working real hard to put murderors and pediphiles in jail, but most of the cases seem to involve kids making mistakes.

    Anyway, I would like to pose the questions... Are prosecutor jobs highly sought after? What is the background of a typical prosecutor?

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  5. I have a bit of a different take on why Charley may have been chosen as the subject of the article.

    In the California counties I'm familiar with, getting a job with the PD's office is not a simple task. They get hundreds of qualified applicants fresh out of law school, many have interned at PD offices, or with other public interest type organizations. The reason is (thankfully) there are True Believers getting cranked out of law schools who have always dreamed of working for a PD's office. While I love this type of person and I could sit and listen to co-workers stories about how they became PD's forever...their stories are a dime a dozen.

    Maybe the reporters were hoping it would be a more interesting story to see him fail? I don't know.

    I found myself disliking Charley in the beginning and rooting for him at the end. Yup, The Accidental Attorney grew on me like fungus.

    A quick note on the Pretty DA and Fugly PD stories going around and mentioned by Blondie among others. There is a new TV show that I saw a commercial for during lost called CONVICTION. Yeah, its about a bunch of newbie DA's fresh out of law school. Let's see, the DA's were young and hot...I'll have to wait and see how they portray the PD's.

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  6. Uh, what was that about the DAs having nicer cars? Why would we have nicer cars? In my state, we actually made less than the PDs. We are better looking, though.

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  7. I'm a 1L in a midwestern law school and I recently went to an information session by the prosecutor's office and the PD's office. Truthfully, I really don't want to do either, I would rather work in Legal Aid. But, I was sitting there wondering which I would rather do and ideologically I feel like I should want to be a PD but I just cannot imagin defending a child abuser or a sexual predator. So I was just wondering how some people deal with that and how they chose to be a PD.

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  8. Dealing with Defendants:

    I went through law school taking the bare minimum of criminal law/procedure classes because I wasn't going to be a DA and "no way could I represent defendants". 10 years of private practice later and 70% of my caseload is either court appointed defendants or juvenile delinquents. Go figure.

    I have handled numerous sex abuse cases and been involved in 1 murder case (I was thankful for the PD's office coming in the lead on that one). The sex abuse cases are the worst, they always will be the worst, even if the evidence is overwhelming, most defendants simply can't bring themselves to say what they did, even if they told law enforcement every detail in the videotaped "privacy" of the interview room. Even after you show them the video, they can't do it.

    I had to take depositions of a 4 year old girl in one case. In another, it was a 16 year old girl and her step-mother; the step-mother felt so betrayed by her husband (again, overwhelming evidence - "explain for me again how your semen got on the underwear your daughter told the police she had on when you molested her" type of evidence) the situation she was darn near a basket case and couldn't hardly answer any questions.

    Sorry about long winded - how did I deal with it? I made sure I checked out every garbage story, lead and fact the client raised, then told them what I thought of their chances honestly and without sugar coating it. Some chose to plead out, some chose to fire me and then plead out with another attorney to the same deal we had on the table when I got fired. None chose to go to trial. I know I did everything I could for my clients to give them a shot if they wanted to go to trial and that they understood everything involved.

    I think that's the best way one can deal with it - know that you did what you were asked to do - defend the rights of the accused, not the actions.

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