Letters: Praise for public defenders
Your “Gideon at 60” article (February-March, page 6) caused me to want to write about the plight of public defenders in my home state of Arkansas.
During the first month of my first year of law school at the University of Arkansas, I learned in my criminal law class that the difference between good and mediocre lawyers was one thing: imagination.
The teacher who taught me that concept, Hillary Rodham, was fresh out of Yale Law School, and it was her first year of teaching. It was my pleasure to have had her teach me in that class as well as criminal procedure the next semester.
Both she and her soon-to-be husband, Bill Clinton, would visit with students in the lounge like they were students too. Never did it occur to me that I was talking to a future secretary of state and a future president. In fall 1974 and spring 1975, they were just teachers who were not all that much older than we students were.
That importance of imagination in preparing cases was nothing short of spot-on. Repeatedly, I have had a light come on in my head, many times at night while I was in bed waiting for sleep to come. However, I truly believe that the most important thing we lawyers do in preparing a case is simply to think about it critically and in-depth.
Most public defenders don’t get to do that because they have way too many cases. I have not encountered one who did not ardently believe they had way too big of a caseload. I cannot recite exactly how many cases are assigned per lawyer, but I have seen that roughly 90% of criminal defendants are represented by public defenders. They should have 90% of the lawyers who work for the prosecution as well as 90% of the support staff, but they do not. Most public defenders will tell you that support staff increases are what they need most.
I genuinely respect and feel sorry for the public defenders who are good lawyers that are simply way overloaded. Many are lawyers I would gladly let represent me, provided they had adequate time to prepare. It is nothing short of poetic that Clarence Gideon was acquitted when he was provided with a lawyer after his successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, we must also remember that Gideon’s new lawyer had plenty of time to really think about his case and prepare for it. We all believe in “equal justice under law,” as inscribed in the Supreme Court building, and we believe in the right to counsel. But that right will only be truly realized when public defenders have manageable caseloads and adequate support staff.
The article “ABA resolves to ‘take a leadership role in opposing antisemitism’” (ABAJournal.com, Feb. 7) was a really sad demonstration that the ABA has adopted all of the bad-faith bias and spins of the mainstream media. In fact, the truth is the opposite of the headline as a result of the rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition at the urging of, among others, numerous antisemitic groups. Shame on you.