Thursday, May 19, 2005

Everyday heroes

Man's greatest actions are performed in minor struggles. Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment and poverty are battlefields which have their heroes - obscure heroes who are at times greater than illustrious heroes.- Victor Hugo

A number of times each year, it seems the people we serve up as heroes to our young, fail us. Ballplayers take steroids; a singer molests a kid, or drinks and drugs; a politician has their hands in the wrong pocket or some other more tawdry place. I am sure the problem is not that these people are all that bad, as I am sure that they were never all that good. I mean what qualities qualify them to be roll models anyway. Being able to run faster, or jump higher, or make friends easier, does not qualify for hero status in my book. No, in fact many who do have these gifts are rare to share them. It may be because of the heavy scrutiny they are under, or the pressure of their career forces them to keep others away.

No, the heroes in my book, are those that suffer with us when we fail, or when we hurt. They are the people who are there for us when no one else is home (or when others are hiding behind their curtains too afraid to come out and be counted on our side.) They toil on our behalf for little or no renumeration and no thanks. They aid the poor and often take money from their own meager wages to help out those even less fortunate.

Many are very talented, but because they are dedicated, (and I mean really dedicated to a proposition far more important than money) they stay and work for ridiculously low wages in ridiculously harsh circumstances. They get the scorn not only of those whom they prevail against, but also of those they serve. They are the most underappreciated lot of professionals I have ever met. They are Legal Aid Society Counsel, Public Defenders and Assigned counsel lawyers.

These folks take on the wrath of the court house and the courts. They take the toughest cases, ones that no one else will handle, and they rarely say no to any assignment. They occasionally do snap (usually when a client they have worked hard for announces that he wants a "real lawyer" thinking that someone he doesn't pay either is not that smart, or not willing to work that hard.) In actuality many people are far better off with legal aid lawyers because they can rarely afford a lawyer who has that much experience trying criminal cases.

May is Law month. It is the time when we celebrate our being a nation of laws not one of cult or of tyranny. I would like to dedicate this month this year to lawyers for the poor and accused. I would like it to be dedicated to the men and women of the Legal Aid Society, the Public Defender's office and those that work as Assigned Counsel in the courts. I would also like to dedicate it to the memory of a friend and collegue Tom Concannon who was the head of the Federal Defenders Bureau of the NY Legal Aid Society in the Eastern District of New York. Tom was the quintessential public defender and he will surely be missed.

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