January 25, 2006

Rookie p.d.'s rocky road, part 2

Thanks, thanks, thanks, to the Tampa Bay tipster who sent me an early link to the continuing saga of Charley Demosthenous, rookie public defender:

The $40 Lawyer - Penalty phase

"His juvenile clients call him names. The domestic violence cases are ugly and depressing. As he does his time, Charley wonders: Will he ever get a jury trial?"

As one of the office's last-chancers, Charley came desperate for a job and burning to prove himself. Now, midway through his first year, Charley wonders how much longer he can stick it out.

His workload is crushing. His learning curve has no top in sight. He worries that his clients are ill-served by his fumbling hands. And there seems no escape from juvenile court, where prosecutors dislike him and clients distrust him.

Yeah, it's not just the rookies who have days like that:

"How long you been a public defender? I was gonna call you a public pretender." The client, who has been holding his head tiredly in his hands, livens up enough to chime in: "That's what I call him too."

"About six months," Charley answers stoically. It feels much longer, like he's aging in dog years.

Gradually, if incrementally, things get better:

When Charley became a PD, he was queasy with ambivalence. Now, he calls his juvenile clients "my kids..." "I guess," he says, "I believe in what I do now." Still, his frustrations are crystalizing right along with his convictions.

Not that it's all sunshine and flowers when he moves up to misdemeanors:

By now, he knows a PD hoping only for innocent clients... is in the wrong line of work... What he's defending, after all, is the presumption of their innocence. Still, it would be nice if they didn't talk to the one guy on their side as if he were an idiot.

This installment ends on a cliffhanger, as Charley's first jury is about to start. By all means go read it.

Indefensible thinks this is an "appalling series" about such a "pathetic... stereotype." In addition to finding the "top law schools" brag tiresome, I'm reminded of this quote from Roman Hruska:

"Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?"

David Feige's right that this series isn't particularly good p.r. for us public defenders, but that doesn't detract from its worthiness as a interesting read. It's not as if we never hear about top-flight criminal defense lawyers who have TV legal pundit gigs or high-profile cases. Now and then, it's diverting to read about the progress of a young lawyer who isn't a hot shot (in this case, perhaps, if only to serve as a warning to others).

At Seeking Justice, Ken Lammers' prosecutorial nemesis Tom McKenna weighs in with a call for sympathy for the D.A. devils, with a hilarious photo line-up refuting the article's contention that p.d.'s hate D.A.'s because D.A.s are better looking. Of course he stacks the deck by showing only the good lookers: for every pretty p.d., there are a dozen schlubs like us.