You know Stephen Bright? He's head of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and a few other things. He was invited to speak this year at the Civil/Criminal Lawyers luncheon at the Florida Bar Meeting. I don't think the civil lawyers, or the prosecutors or judges there knew what was about to happen.
He spoke as if he was amongst friends, or that he didn't care if he wasn't.
He said he almost never gets relief for his death penalty clients when he is before elected judges. He said, out loud, in front of a few elected judges, that this is because elected judges are thinking not about the next case, but the next election.
He said the indigent defense system in this country is a disgrace, and that judges and prosecutors not only watch it happen, but use it to their advantage. He said the system is in a downward spiral, people facing the death penalty with no appointed counsel, overworked public defenders unable to properly represent defendants, legislatures with no courage. I was in the front of the room, and could feel the faces behind me turning red. He was speaking the truth, and the truth hurts.
No, I'm not condemning all judges, and all prosecutors, I'm condemning a system that, as Bright says, processes defendants instead of represents clients.
Bright was raw to the core. He held back nothing. He spoke of injustice throughout the country. He gave examples. The room was silent.
He came to the Bar and shamed us. We deserved it. We all, deserved it.
You may not have an hour to watch this speech of Bright from 2007, but skip through it, listen to some of it. Find out where he's speaking and go see him, whether you are pro or anti-death penalty.
Nothing wrong with hearing things that anger you.
VIDEO: Stephen Bright at Franklin Pierce Law School, 2007
Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Post to Twitter
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