Wednesday, April 28, 2010

no hollow promise that life would reward you

Not Guilty posted a letter written to her from a colleague.  It's a letter of tough love.  Toughen up, it advises.  Being a public defender isn't gracious, doesn't earn anyone's respect.  To continue to do this job and be good at it, you can't want other people's respect and admiration.

These things are true, and it's what I struggle with most as a public defender.  You don't have to like me, or what I do.  But I want respect, and acknowledgment.  I'm struggling with one particular case right now where the entire courtroom is so far against my client that my voice is like a dog whistle.  The court reporter is typing my words but no one hears them or pays them any mind.  The entire case is riddled with reversible error, as every single one of my meritable claims has been just flagrantly dismissed without consideration.  I am one ignored word away from being held in contempt or filing a flurry of, I don't even know.  Writs of mandamus?  I am a smart, personable attorney.  I work hard to be good at what I do, and I will advocate vigorously for my clients, to the boundaries of the law.  Is it so hard to acknowledge that I have a place in this courtroom?  That I have a voice?  That I submit and argue well-thought-out legal arguments?  You must ignore me because I'm right and you don't want me to be.  Otherwise, you're just being an ass.

I feel that the practice in my jurisdiction is completely disgraceful.  I am dismayed by how few judges I have any respect for.  I am angered by how unprofessional and unethically uncivil the prosecutors in my jurisdiction are.  I am not asking to win every case, I'm not asking that you tell me I'm pretty every day.  All I ask is that you listen when I speak, that you respond thoughtfully while demonstrating a grasp of basic legal principles, and conduct yourself in a professional manner.  I do the same for you.

I love being a public defender but I hate what that is on an hour-by-hour basis.  I am self-aware enough that I can admit that I need to feel respected by the people I work with.  I need to feel smart (not smarter, just smart).  I expected my clients wouldn't like me, and that judges would get angry, and that prosecutors would give me a hard time.  But I never thought I'd be like this.  It's all so yucky.

I think I can finally admit that I am not cut out for this, at least as it is here in my jurisdiction.  Maybe a different jurisdiction would be better for me.  Or maybe it's just that I don't have that thick skin required to do this job, anywhere, and do it well. 

4 comments:

ambimb said...

Wow. I feel you. It's the same in the jurisdictions where I've practiced. My conclusion is that most judges are prosecutors so we often feel like we're arguing into a void because they literally can't hear what we're saying. Most judges are so bent on convictions that anything that would get them to think differently is just not possible. This is especially frustrating when the law and facts are on our side. I had a judge recuse himself from a case after I filed a motion to dismiss. I will never prove it, but I will always believe he did it because he read the motion and realized it was his duty to dismiss the case but he simply couldn't bring himself to do it. Thankfully, the judge who took over was able to do the right thing. Judges who can do the right thing are few and far between and that is really what makes this job so hard.

Who is "cut out" for this kind of abuse and disrespect on a daily basis? I don't think anyone is. Still, we do it for our clients, and for our hope and belief that what is true and right will prevail (at least occasionally). And we all do it for our own reasons on top of those...

I feel for you. I hope it gets better or you find something different.

Blonde Justice said...

Ugh, I hear you. The hardest thing is, trying to explain, I think, that I love my job in theory, but not in practice. I like the idea of what I do but not the way it goes down sometimes. It sucks. Hang in there until you figure out something better.

Skelly said...

Everything Ambimb and Blondie said, and more. You have respect and acknowledgment out here.

I hope that your dedication will sustain you on the bad days. Personally, I can vouch for the different jurisdiction solution, but which ever road you take, you are going to be okay. Anyone who can quote Neko Case in a blog title isn't going to see the bastards grind her down.

carol d said...

Holy Cow! I think I wrote this yesterday and my words someone snuck over to your blog. I try to be positive (mainly to selfishly cheer myself up) on pdrevolution, but lord, some days, I want to give up and kill people on my way out.

You might like this http://www.scribd.com/doc/32099478
This judge just kept screwing with me, and one time it was too much and I asked him to recuse himself. I spent the last 3 days proving what an ass he was. Yesterday, when I saw your post, I was at a low point because I thought, Why am I doing this--they're all just going to treat me worse, and it won't help my client, etc.

Today? The judge recused himself; and the prosecutor is so afraid of how much the judge screwed up this case that he's now going to agree to a 10 year sentence, rather than the 15 he had previously agreed to recommend.

I'm telling you this just in solidarity with how crappy we get treated. It alternately causes me despair and pisses me off. I think maybe we should take them on more; on the other hand, I'm just daring them to fire me at this point. I've been thinking about posting transcripts of bad judges.

Oh, and this judge is none other that he who does not like Yep!