Public defenders need support

July 16, 2017

OPINION by STEPHEN COOPER

“In our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him,” Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote in 1963, in Gideon v. Wainwright.

Black’s well-considered conclusion, over fifty years old, holds up every bit as strong today. If you think about it, on a daily basis, it is public defenders leading the charge – in courtrooms, in conference rooms, in correctional facilities, in the streets (at best, with the aid of an overworked investigator), or even in coffee houses and on barstools with prosecutors (they’ll drink with anyone, if that’s what it takes) – fighting tooth and nail against the government’s relentless efforts to erode, even erase, inalienable constitutional rights and freedoms of the poor.

So, please, I implore you, don’t forget to support your state and federal public defenders.

How? First, by calling, writing, emailing, and otherwise making sure your elected representatives in Congress and in local and state legislatures know, you demand that public defender systems be fully and adequately funded. Second, by donating to long-established champions of liberty like the National Association for Public Defense, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and Gideon’s Promise.

And third, if you are young or old, smart, passionate, and believe all people, rich or poor, black or white (or any hue), guilty or innocent deserve justice, volunteer. Public defender offices need you. With little money and no police force at their disposal like prosecutors have, public defender offices desperately need help investigating alleged and actual crimes, and they’ll train you.

Also, they need administrative help, interns, pre-law students, law students, law professors, social workers, private sector attorneys, mental health professionals and expert witnesses to donate (or heavily discount) their time, their energy, their intellectual power, and their passion for justice, in defense of the poor.

The experience of history, law, and common sense demonstrate that the constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel is, and always will be, only as strong as our collective will as freedom-loving, compassionate and conscientious Americans, to make it.

About the Author: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq.







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13 Comments

  1. Boldguy says:

    Would really like some facts about this dilemma!
    I wonder what the District Attorney’s Office is per client versus the Public Defenders Office is per Client?
    Since it has been determined that a defense is a Constitutional right and must be provided to those that can not afford one, then the per client budget should be the same?
    Kinda like they did with NCAA Title IX.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. Kidholm says:

    Here’s a solution: Eliminate public defenders and their funding. Instead, have Congress enact legislation that requires attorneys to defend anyone facing criminal charges regardless of their ability to pay, or face a fine of $50,000. A call schedule would be made where attorneys would take “public defender call” every fourth day, picking up the cases of the financially challenged.

    Oh yes, also require attorneys to retake the BAR every ten years.

    This is exactly what Congress did to physicians with EMTALA. Why not do the same with attorneys?

    (13) 29 Total Votes - 21 up - 8 down
  3. copperhead says:

    Never will I canal any government official and say “make sure this program is fully funded” because they will be reaching into my pocket and through my change drawers to fund it.

    Cutting every government is the solution I am looking for.

    (7) 33 Total Votes - 20 up - 13 down
  4. Rambunctious says:

    I am a public defender/defense lawyer.
    I am the guardian of the presumption of innocence, due process, and fair trial.
    To me is entrusted the preservation of those sacred principles.
    I will promulgate them with courtesy and respect,but not with obsequiousness and not with fear.
    For I am partisan; I am counsel for the defense.
    Let none who oppose me forget that with every fibre of my being I will fight for my clients.
    My clients are the indigent accused.
    They are the lonely, the friendless.
    There is no one to speak for them but me.
    My voice will be raised in their defense.
    I will resolve all doubt in their favor.
    This will be my credo: this and the Golden Rule.
    I will seek acclaim and approval only from my own conscience.
    And if upon my death there are a few lonely people who have benefited, my efforts will not have been in vain.
    — James Doherty, 1957

    (5) 31 Total Votes - 18 up - 13 down
    • copperhead says:

      I like Johnny cash Wichita lineman lyrics better.

      (-4) 14 Total Votes - 5 up - 9 down
      • George Bailey says:

        Copperhead,

        With all due respect, I think ‘Wichita Lineman’ was Glen Campbell.

        Johnny Cash wrote ‘A Boy Named Sue’!

        But I like both of those song lyrics more than James Doherty’s rag.

        George

        (9) 17 Total Votes - 13 up - 4 down
  5. Pelican1 says:

    Actually, rather than “our support,” public defenders desperately need to learn how to user their moral compasses.

    (4) 30 Total Votes - 17 up - 13 down
    • L.A.RamsFan says:

      One of the reasons for our Constitution, including the 6th Amendment, was the moral ineptitude of the country we were trying to separate from; a country who twisted their morals to only serve those who were born into the class where morals were bastardized to fit title, position and or wealth.

      The 6th Amendment was based on the idea that all men and women were created equal and in saying that they deserved equal justice that included a presumption of innocence, something that any moral person would see the absolute importance and necessity of.

      It appears we have become what we separated from though in 1776, a country that only serves the “best” interests of those who can afford it by either wealth or position and or title. Your comment eludes to that fact by omitting any defense attorney other than PD’s from your idiotic comment…

      Have a nice day!

      (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
  6. L.A.RamsFan says:

    Stephen I applaud your effort but…

    In the hot bed of conservative thinking SLO you’re barking up the wrong tree! The common thinking here is “guilty until proven innocent” and anything that would dissuade from that is as abhorrent to these folks as the person who considers exercising his or her Constitutional Rights when involved with the justice system.

    Besides Stephen you know as well as I do that the best and brightest attorneys coming out of law school in the criminal defense discipline are generally not motivated to a PD position; lack of commensurable pay to that of a private attorney, long hours, low respect by the community, lack of resources and the myriad of other seemingly insurmountable challenges don’t attract those types.

    SLO doesn’t care about Rights, nope! What they want is expedient and cheap justice no matter the cost to the accused. What they don’t realize is that type of thinking slowly and effectively whittles away at our Constitution and Bill of Rights until their not worth the paper their printed on… I’m of the opinion this, for the most part, has already occurred.

    (3) 27 Total Votes - 15 up - 12 down
    • womanwhohasbeenthere says:

      Sorry but it depends on who is charged. If it is a cop, fireman or other government official, it is “innocent until proven guilty,” and paid administrative leave for months on end, ie a free vacation at taxpayers’ expense, and the odds are charges will be dropped or minimized so as to be meaningless.

      Formerly local attorneys would sign up to do public defender work on a sort of contract basis. I thought this worked pretty well. Once someone gets a regular paycheck regardless of quality of work, the quality of work inevitably goes down. This is true in both the public and private sector.

      (1) 7 Total Votes - 4 up - 3 down
      • L.A.RamsFan says:

        Generally speaking the only time a private attorney is appointed to a person over the public defenders office is when there is a conflict involved especially where two or more defendants are being prosecuted for the same crime. Also, those private attorneys assigned to such cases bill at a reduced rate and are usually just as straddled with lack of resources as the public defender (I know, I’ve been there and done that).

        I don’t disagree with your first contention about cops, firemen and or other government officials but after all aren’t they part of “class” that I spoke of? Or at least put into that category by most? Especially by our justice system?

        Your contention that quality of work goes down with a regular paycheck is probably true with some but I have known PD’s where their quality of work was never affected by a regular paycheck but rather by the lack of resources and quantity of work pushed at them. There are PD’s out there that handle upwards of 500 to 600 hundred cases a year, I doubt you’d find a criminal defense firm with a number of attorneys on its staff that handles that amount in total.

        No, the real problem is a legal system that has become so convoluted and complicated so the common man has to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to have an Ol’ Boy network interpret it for him. Just try utilizing the justice system outside of small claims without an attorney and see the obstacles thrown at you, especially by the judge who is suppose to be impartial and the facilitator of justice.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  7. Templetukian says:

    I was with you until:
    “…fighting tooth and nail against the government’s relentless efforts to erode, even erase, inalienable constitutional rights and freedoms of the poor”

    I’m so grateful that my parents raised my sisters and me to NEVER accept the place of a victim. The author is obviously very comfortable in that role.

    (8) 28 Total Votes - 18 up - 10 down

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