Thursday, July 09, 2009

Someone Get Me A "Former Federal Prosecutor."

I often joke that there are criminal defense lawyers and "former prosecutors" (practicing criminal defense). Some laugh. The ones that don't, know I'm talking about them.

I am not, a former federal prosecutor. I am not a former prosecutor. I am a criminal defense attorney. I formerly worked as a criminal defense attorney at the public defender's office, and I make sure I always let the appropriate person, reader, or audience know that I am a former public defender.

I do not, though, identify my basic existence with that former position of which I am very proud.

When I have appeared in print or on radio or TV, I never ask to be identified as a "former public defender." Again, I used to work at the public defender's office doing what I do now, criminal defense. I am a criminal defense lawyer. If I ever was a prosecutor, I would not want to live in the past and tell the world at every opportunity what I used to do.

Former federal prosecutors, and former prosecutors to a lesser extent, seem to find themselves using that title in curious situations.

This week on the Today Show there was a segment discussing what will happen to Michael Jackson's kids. Jeanine Pirro, former New York Judge and DA was commenting perfectly on California family law, never leading the audience to realize she knows nothing about California law besides what the person she called in California before the show told her. (Sorry to blow the secret that lawyers and judges know nothing about law in other states)

And there was this other female lawyer on the comfy couch. I didn't hear the whole segment, but I saw across the bottom of the screen: "Former Federal Prosecutor."

There are only two possibilities here. This woman is a former federal prosecutor now practicing family law, or she is, well, just a former federal prosecutor doing something else. Either way, who cares? Is there some theory that the custody of Michael Jackson's kids will become of interest to the U.S Attorney? I know we're upset no one's been arrested yet in MJ's death and no Law & Order episode has been "ripped from the headlines," but do we really need to suggest that a former prosecutor, sorry, former federal prosecutor is the only person to comment on....custody?

Why was this woman referred to as a "Former Federal Prosecutor?" Did she ask, or did the Today Show think it sounded good.

It doesn't end there.

One of the dirty little secrets of this title is that it is used to mask the terrible things that "Former Federal Prosecutors" and Former Prosecutors do after they stop being Prosecutors," like become defense lawyers.

That, they refer to as "Private Practice."

Look at any candidate for judge or state or local office. Look at their resume. "Former prosecutor now in private practice?" BINGO - defense lawyer. Criminal defense lawyer. Shhhhhh.

I've always wondered what the media's love affair is with "Former Prosecutors." To me, they simply perpetrate the notion that these are the lawyers who know everything and are best suited to answer questions in any situation, because they used to prosecute criminal cases.

It has long been the mantra that being a "former prosecutor" is a better pedigree than being a former public defender. That's absolutely true. Former prosecutors are more likely to be hired at big firms who believe that clients will want to hire them to defend. They are more likely to be appointed to the bench, elected to office, and of course, plastered on TV to answer questions, about anything.

Even if they are now, "in private practice."


Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit

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