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Want to run for political office? Don’t work as a public defender first

Posted Jun 18, 2014 8:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Fifty-five U.S. senators list legal backgrounds on their resumes, making it the most popular profession in the Senate. And law is the third most popular profession among U.S. representatives, 156 of whom list legal backgrounds.

Having a legal background appears to be a detriment, however, for lawyers who worked as public defenders, the Washington Post reports.

The current Congress includes 32 former prosecutors (eight in the Senate and 24 in the House), according to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service. Far fewer list public defender work on their resumes, according to a search of a House database reaching back to 2000.

That search reveals only five U.S. representatives who worked as public defenders since 2000. One is no longer in Congress and another later worked as a prosecutor, the story says.

The story uses the data to make a point about criticism of Hillary Clinton’s defense of an accused rapist. Clinton talked about the case in taped interviews from the mid-1980s for a never published story. Clinton had questioned the credibility of the alleged victim, a 12-year-old girl, and revealed that the defendant passed a lie detector test. She secured a plea bargain after a crime lab that tested the defendant’s bloody underwear discarded a section it had cut out for testing.

The Post spoke with Steven Benjamin, the immediate past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who saw similarities between the Clinton criticism and attacks on political candidates for their representation of criminal defendants.

"It is a deplorable trend of alarming proportions," Benjamin said. "It is no different than telling a physician or a firefighter that they are unqualified for public office based on the character of the people they have saved."

Also see:

ABAJournal.com: "State bar and ABA condemn political attack ad against lawyer running for South Carolina governor"

ABAJournal.com: "Republican Governors Association doubles down on negative ad campaign against lawyer"

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