Monday, September 26, 2005

Defendin' Ain't Easy*

Arbitrary and Capricious

Skelly Wright is a first-rate fellow bloger who not only links to us, but teaches us everyday. His blog is a must read for anyone who practices criminal law "in the trenches" (which means a guy who goes to court and tries cases, usually for poor clients, and not one who just writes about it or has clients who can afford their share of justice) because he is first and foremost a public defender.

That Lawyer Dude was once a Legal Aid Society lawyer which is a lot like being a public defender. It means you get the clients no one else wants or no one else can afford. It means you work on cases that you don't get adequate funds to work on. Where you have to have permission of the court to hire the experts and investigators you need. Where you may need funds just to hire a secretary to type your motions. It is a rare occurance when a public defender gets a thank you much less a more formal show of appreciation. Unlike his retained colleagues, Legal aid lawyers do not have people to run down things for them or to keep their offices in order and return their calls while they are on trial. Often in rural areas, PD's and LAS lawyers work in near isolation with maybe only one or fewer staffers available to them. They often work on the hardest to win cases;for the hardest to like clients; with the hardest to deal with facts. I hav labeled them heroes and we have discussed the need for them to take on the defense of the unloved and even factually guilty client.We haven't however discussed the toll that the work takes on the lawyer who toils in these environs.

Skelly's blog quotes the Public Defender of the BTK murderer. These were a series of serial murders that took place in the Midwest. Her work was difficult and the result was that her client was not given a death sentence but did get 10 life sentences which means he is never getting out of jail. The case scared a good portion of the PD's friends family neighbors and others. By her own account she saw many things that she never wanted to see, and learned things she didn't want to know. Now some 6 weeks post verdict, with the case a memory for most of us, she remains haunted by its memory. She seems a little depressed and out of sorts. She seems to need someone to talk to. She is stuck in big case gear. I know, I've been there.

A big case is life and death. The adrenaline overflows and the work is all but consuming. Each waking hour contains snippits of time when you are thinking about the case and its ramifications. Though usually in jail, it is like your client is following you all over, asking you as you do other things, "Shouldn't you be working on my case? I am going to spend the rest of my life in here, is that haircut your getting worth more than my life?" As you study the facts the pictures and the other evidence, you think about the victims. What were they thinking at or near the end? How did they wind up there? Why did this happen to them, why did this happen to your client?

One day the case ends. The excitement, the worry, the noise and the rest ends. But not for you. You still linger with questions. Did I do the best that I could? Could I have done something different that would have changed the outcome? Was I the right one for this case? Win lose or draw your still in Big case gear, but everyone else is on the next big thing, and you are trying to pick up the pieces of your life. Calling the people whose parties you missed. Trying to find time in your loved ones schedule to make up for the time you lost with them while you worked on or thought about your case. If you are a private lawyer maybe you need to find clients to give you some income again. Maybe you need to pay bills you ignored. Maybe you have haunting memories of what was in the autopsy, a picture of a victim. Hearing the victim scream into a tape machine as she is being blugeoned to death. The PD that defended the BTK killer, was a person. A neighbor, a customer at her local stores. But first she is a Lawyer, A Trial Lawyer. That means that she is about to undergo a decompression, a disappointment, even despair. She has stood where no other dared to stand. Next to a serial murderer, in protection of his rights under the Constitution of the United States of America. Believe me when I say that you may revile the BTK murderer, but pray for his lawyer... from the reading I get in Skelly's blog today, she needs those prayers and many more as she lifts the fog from her head her heart and her practice.
*Apologies to all those who taught me english.
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