Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Public defender story

From a story in Simple Justice Blog:

A new blawg, Public Defender Revolution, has joined the blawgosphere, with an interesting 6 year old tale of being pushed to trial unprepared. By the somewhat anonymous "carol d" a 15 year veteran of the trenches:

"Six years ago, when a judge ordered me to conduct a trial for which I was not prepared, I was shocked. . . Before that day, I knew that a judge would respect the fact that I had conducted over 100 jury trials, and that when I said I wasn't ready, I wasn't ready. And if I wasn't ready, it would be unconscionable to order me to trial."

The judge rejected her request for time.

"When the judge denied my motion to continue, I was dumbfounded—the judge had just been appointed to the bench and had never practiced criminal law, but I didn't know what to do when he said, "I understand why you are not prepared, Ms. Defender, and I find it is not your fault, but the citizens of Washington have the right to have this matter resolved, and you have to start the trial on Monday.""

Her reaction to this order was to post a "panicked" inquiry to the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, an association she had recently joined, looking for "support and advice."

"After considering the advice—most of which was to proceed with trial while making a careful record—I decided that I was going to refuse to conduct the trial."

She then explains:

"This post isn't about that decision process (because many of the factors were case-specific), but my philosophy can be summed up by the "You Can't Make Me" icon: You can't give me too many cases, too many clients, too many prosecutors, and then tell me I have to conduct a farce of a trial when you know I am not ready. A system that will force me to betray my client by failing to represent him adequately at trial, is a system I won't play along with. You can't make me fail my client."

Ultimately, carol d's trek through judicial coercion, panic and bad advice to the ultimate decision to put the client's interest first, to not "fail [her] client," isn't unique, but a fascinating insight into the fortitude required of the criminal defense lawyer and the obstacles in the way.

The story bears similarities to the Portage, Ohio public defender who was ordered to go to trial on one day's notice and refused. He was held in contempt and jailed for his insolence.
Continue reading this story here.

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