Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Public Defender Rants

Many many years ago, like 5 years ago, the blogosphere was different. Lawyers came here to write, to express opinions on the issues of the day, to pass on other posts and news items from other blogs. Sure there were marketers, but it wasn't like it is today, where lawyers race to start a blog for the sole purpose of getting the phone to ring, evidenced by the cheesy style of the poor-content, heavy links to the firm, blog.

But the blogs of "yesterday" still exist. Some look fondly at them like that vintage car riding down the street on a Sunday, others, the marketers, look at them as they do their elders when they give advice - like they don't know what they're talking about.

Daniel Partain is a public defender in Georgia, and he has one of those old style blogs. He writes what he thinks, and isn't here to market his free services to the indigent. He doesn't have hundreds of readers, not many comment, and the posts don't exactly go "viral." But that's mostly because today's blogosphere isn't looking for important thoughts, personal perspectives, or controversial statements. People here today are looking for link-love, Google juice, and the coveted SEO (search engine optimization for those who haven't gone desperately to a social media marketer claiming to be able to find you wealth and fame with a keyboard.)

Shortly after midnight, he went off.

Daniel appropriately titled his post A Very Poorly Constructed Rant. Then again, rants are not meant to be anything but "poorly constructed."

Daniel says, in part:

I hear from fellow lawyers and laypeople about how noble it is to be a public defender, and how we do is gallant or a true public service. When I hear this bullshit, I want to vomit.

Guilt or innocence is reduced to probabilities and percentages. Sentences are just a range of numbers. Confinement is seen as a cakewalk. It is three hot meats and a cot or a vacation from the cares of the real world. Or in the eyes of certain jurists, sentences are seen as an instrument to enlighten the masses as to the repercussions of committing a criminal act, and to alter their behavior. However, in this era of Twitter, Facebook, and other social / mass media that produces more sound than fury, and makes all of us sound like blathering idiots, this jurist's pronunciations are lost in the static, the white noise. The collateral damage that comes from the system is ignored.

The bar may pontificate about the flaws in the public defender system, but they quietly expect us to keep going beyond the limits of intellectual endurance. If we snap or break under the stress, it is of no loss. We are expendable. No, we are interchangeable and easily replaceable cogs in the meat grinder that is the system. They would never treat the vaunted private attorney like the way they treat us.

However, there are days where I hear of something so fiendish or so deprave that it pierces even my hardened heart, and it causes me to recoil in horror and disbelief. Yet, within in a few days, if not less, I return to my callous state, where I am numb to the suffering of others, and I find myself capable of telling a joke about any depraved act without a second thought or without any malice in my heart.

Over the years of doing this line of work, I find that my mind and my body are in constant warfare with each other. My body wants to collapse from the emotional and psychological wreckage that I must wade through. My mind ignores it, and pushes through it. Yet, there are days where my mind breaks down. Some days it will drop into neutral, and I find myself suffering from the 1,000-yard stare.

The despair that I feel overwhelms me and it comes over me like a wave against an ocean shore. With each wave that comes over me, the man that I was is slowly worn away.

These are the words of a real lawyer, a man in the arena every day. He sees and feels the weight and power of the criminal justice system, and chooses to put his thoughts in writing. Few people read this post, and the tough-on-crime-why-was-Law-and-Order-cancelled crowd feels nothing when reading it.

We have gone from a society where we looked forward to Perry Mason and Matlock winning the case, to the demand that for hours on end every day, legal dramas on TV reminded us that the cops always get the bad guy, and the defendant is always convicted, regardless of his scumbag defense lawyer. We ingore that the system is broken, while lauding the creation of "Innocence Commissions" and "Innocence Projects." We fail to recognize that the system itself should be an Innocence Project, instead, feeling better about ourselves that we are now trying to right wrongs that are the result of our zeal to prosecute and convict, justice be dammned.

So Daniel goes back to work today, processing through the dozens of defendants that will enter his courtroom. Nothing he said in his post will matter to anyone important, nothing will change. He ranted for the purpose of a rant, for the purpose of expressing real thought about a real topic. He wrote to write. His post will bring him no business, no money, no love from the marketing lawyers on the internet.

And that's the end of my rant.

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.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter