Meeting the Best People

One thing I really like is meeting other public defenders.  As my clinic teacher used to say, "Public defenders are the best people in the world."

If not the "best," they're at least usually like-minded.  And in a world where our chosen profession is often misunderstood, that is no small thing.

If you are a public defender having some doubts, or experiencing "burn out," I would suggest going to a PD conference, maybe even in another state, and making some new friends.  It helps to realize there are people going through the same (or worse) challenges, and people you can swap war stories with - who haven't already heard all your best ones.  It's like a little spa retreat for the professional mind.

I'm not going to go as far as to say that professional development can be a form of self-care, but at least the socializing aspect can be a form of... career-care? Is there a better term for it than that?

And, never say never, some day you might be looking for a new job and those connections you made might really pay off.

Self-Care for Public Defenders

Self-care is a social worker and therapist idea, basically, wherein the practitioner makes an effort to care for himself and his own mental wellbeing as a way of staying healthy and being able to persevere, successfully, in the field. In the social work field, it is taught as a "survival skill," as the University of Buffalo Social Work school noted on its website Self-Care Starter Kit, which has a lot of great resources for social work students and practitioners.

When I started out as a public defender, many years ago, I was surprised how little attention was paid to the attorneys' well-being. I distinctly remember sitting through the first-day training on health benefits, and when we got to the part about mental health, the only coverage was for in-patient mental health treatment and in-patient drug and alcohol treatment. Even then, not having experienced it, I thought, "Wouldn't this be a profession where it'd be nice to talk to a therapist or something once in a while?"

But what I learned is that, at least in the offices I've worked in, self-care was largely ignored. All the therapy you needed was in a pint at the pub with colleagues. And, don't get me wrong, I think collegiality is important, but maybe that's how we ended up as the profession with the highest alcoholism rates? (Attorneys in general, not public defenders. I've never seen stats on alcoholism among different legal fields.)

In the offices where I've practiced, to talk about being "burnt out" was to be seen as someone who couldn't handle the job, someone who wasn't a "true believer." To struggle with how to avoid taking our clients' issues home was to be seen as naive, a rookie lawyer who didn't "get it yet."

I bring all this up because, after a lot of consideration, I have decided to reenter the world of public defense. But this time, I want to do it differently.

I'm not quite sure yet how to do it, but I want to be more cognizant of my own needs this time. I want to engage in more self-care. A google search for self-care turns up tons of information for therapists and social workers. A google search for self-care and public defense turns up articles about self-representation and self-defense. My plan is to read up on self-care and see how it can be adapted to public defense (because, after all, social worker can be one of the hats a public defender wears).  One thing that I'm thinking is to research things like yoga classes and other things that will be healthy and relaxing for me and, from day one at my new office, to start by saying something like, "On Wednesdays, I have to leave by 5 p.m., I have a standing appointment." I know emergencies will come up, and that it won't always be realistic to leave early, but if it happens more often than not, I'd be happy.

Besides that... I'm not sure yet. If there's anyone out there still reading this (besides the comment spam bots), I'd like to hear from you. How do you engage in self-care?

Why, Yes, I Do

I went out for drinks for a friend's birthday last weekend, and got to meet a bunch of her friends. I joined the festivities late, so I was a couple of drinks behind the rest of the crowd.

Meeting my friend's friend, the first thing he asked was, "So, I heard you were a public defender?"

"Yes...." I replied, preparing myself for the worst.

"I bet you know a lot of really dirty jokes."

Jumping Back In, Possibly

Believe it or not, I have applied to be a public defender again. At a new office. In a new city.

I had an interview, and it was a little bit weird. I know a lot about being a public defender already, I know what I'm getting myself into, I can talk the public defender talk and trade war stories, but I didn't want to come across as a know-it-all.

At the end of the interview they asked me, "What questions do you have for us?" And, of course, I answered with an appropriate question.  

Here are the questions I could have asked, but didn't:

1)  What does my office will look like?  There's a window, right?  Preferably one that brings in light, not just looking out at a brick wall. 

2)  Tell me about your happy hours?  What bar do you go to? Weekly? What night? Does everyone go, or are there certain groups?

3)  What can I expect when I bring home a full acquittal?  Champagne and canap├ęs? Or beer and chips?  Not that there's anything wrong with either, I just want to know what to expect. 

4)  Tell me who the office gossip is. I want to know who to watch out for.

5)  The softball team - is it more of a drinking team with a softball problem, or is it pretty competitive?  We do have a softball team... don't we? 

If there's anyone still out there reading this, do you have any questions for me? 

Your Attention Please:

Judge Carol Berkman has retired.

"I have this reputation for being a mean old bitch," Berkman, 70, said just before lunch, after hearing her last case, a gun possession, and stepping down from the bench.

Take Pause, Anonymous

My previous post, The Cops Show You a Picture of Yourself raised a good question from an anonymous commenter, who wrote:
Your comment "they don't have to show me the video" makes me take pause. Aren't individuals accused of criminal behavior entitled to be confronted with the evidence? Doesn't the Sixth Amendment entitle them to see the video?


Just to clarify before we go any further, I wrote in the original post, "I'm placed under arrest and they don't have to show me the video.  They can save the video for trial..."  Meaning, there is no right to see the video during the interrogation, before my arrest.  


 Let's start by taking a look at the Sixth Amendment and the Confrontation Clause briefly:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The question is referring to the Confrontation Clause, meaning the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him."  And I agree, absolutely, that would include the right to see the video...  at trial.  The Confrontation Clause is a trial right, not a pre-trial or investigation right.  

Ultimately, if this case went to trial, you would likely see this video at trial if the prosecution was using it as evidence against you. 



Notice the two "if"s in that sentence.  


First, if the case went to trial.  If you took a plea deal, depending on the discovery rules in your jurisdiction and the timing of the plea, it is possible you would not see the video before your plea.  Some states have very late discovery (for example, everything has to be turned over before the trial begins) and certainly, some defendants take a plea bargain well before the case proceeds that far.  I think that most defense lawyers, if the video was the key evidence in the case, would ask for an opportunity to view the video before advising their client whether to take a plea deal.  On the other hand, though, I can imagine a scenario where the prosecutor says, "Look, the deal is ____ today.  Your client knows what he did.  If I have to present the case to the grand jury and turn over evidence, the offer is going up."  And, we're back to my assertion, they don't have to show you the video.  


The second "if" is if the prosecution uses that video against you.  Sometimes the prosecution has evidence that they choose not to use, particularly if there's a way to prove the case and protect that evidence.  For example, imagine that same robbery case with the video.  Let's imagine the prosecutor finds ten different people who were on the street that day.  They all come in, pick you out of a mugshot book, pick you out of a line-up, and describe you perfectly.  One of them even got a picture of you on his cell phone camera as you ran away.  If the prosecutor decides that he feels pretty confident the jury will be convinced based on these ten witnesses and the cell phone camera photo, he may decide he doesn't want to use the video and may never have to turn it over.  


On the contrary, if the prosecutor was using the video as the evidence against you, you would have a chance to confront it.  To argue to the jury, for example, that the video may have been tampered with or that the footage doesn't show what it is alleged to have shown.  The officer can't testify, "I saw the video and it showed the defendant committing the robbery," without showing the video for the jury - and letting the jury decide for themselves whether the video really shows what the officer says it does. 


Bottom line, I agree, anonymous.  It gives me pause too.  A lot of the things that police are allowed to do, and a lot of things that prosecutors are allowed to withhold, give me pause too.  Hopefully, you and all of the other readers will feel that same hesitation just between the officer asking you a question and you asking for a lawyer. 

Preach On, Gideon

I had two goals:

First, to find some new defense blogs to link to as I clear out some apparently-abandoned blogs.

The other was to try to write a meaningful piece on the Dharun Ravi - Rutgers - cyberbullying - "hate crime" - "bias intimidation" - "Tyler Clementi" case.   But I had too many thoughts spinning around in my head, and I just wasn't ready to organize them all yet.

Instead, I found this excellent blog post When hard cases make bad law: Why the Rutgers Conviction is Wrong that says it all much better than I could.  And in the process, I've found Gideon Speaks - a new (to me) defense blog!

Two birds, one stone.