A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Screw The Public Defenders

There's just no such thing about a stupid comment among friends. When it happens, blogging about it the next day is as timely as eating 4 week old bread.

My friends David Markus, Jeff Gamso, and Scott Greenfield reported the news yesterday that Aspen District Attorney Martin Beeson (great website by the way) said:

Public defenders are not defenders of the public. They are not serving the public good. They are taxpayer-funded attorneys for criminals.

The comment came in response to a reporter's question about the disparity between budgets for prosecutors and public defenders.

These are the kinds of stories for which little commentary is needed, but we discuss them anyway. The story is not just that a public official, the public official charged with seeking justice feels this way and said it, it's that many agree. The respect for the Constitution and its Amendments (see Amendment Six) has dwindled to nothing more than a demand that no one take their guns away.

Reaction was as expected. Disgust. Those who agree, quiet. Shawana Geiger, President of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, has asked for a retraction. There is also this blog post requesting an apology or resignation.

I'd request both.

I also think the Colorado Bar should investigate if there was a violation of Rule 3.8(f)

except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused and exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, law enforcement personnel, employees or other persons assisting or associated with the prosecutor in a criminal case from making an extrajudicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making under Rule 3.6 or this Rule.

Beeson is unrelenting. I stand by my statement. The so-called public defenders do not defend the public. The law enforcement defends the public. The prosecutors defend the public. Public defenders are government-funded defense attorneys and should be called just that, government-funded defense attorneys.

What Beeson really wants, is defense attorneys to lay down. Most private defense attorneys in this district are men and women of integrity.” But he criticized some lawyers for meritlessly accusing him and his office of prosecutorial misconduct, attacking victims of crimes at trial, and frustrating the DA’s efforts with superfluous motions to suppress evidence.

Be sure, there are other elected and appointed prosecutors and their assistants that agree. Just like there are defense attorneys that believe all prosecutors are liars.

People like this don't belong in the criminal justice system. That's as simple as I cam put it. Anyone who believes the other side is by default, a "problem," has no concept of criminal justice, the adversary process, or law.

But they're around. They just know better than to express their true feelings to someone with a tape recorder.

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


  1. Robert Kuntz11:06 AM

    Brian you said:

    "Anyone who believes the other side is by default, a 'problem,' has no concept of criminal justice, the adversary process, or law.

    But they're around."

    They're not just around, Brian, they abound.

    Beeson's opinion is by no means an outlier. It is well-centered in the norm and notable only for having been expressed.

    But even that won't be notable soon. We are in the nascent stages of a shift in our cultural and political values that renders public expression of such a notion not only tolerable, not only politically advantageous to its speaker, but practically de rigueur for anyone seeking public office.

    I don't think most folks can even imagine how bad this is going to get.

    (When they deem all payments to criminal defense attorneys to be "money laundering" and put you out of business, there'll be a place for you here on the civil side. Except I suspect you wouldn't want it.)

  2. Every now and then, a cop or a prosecutor winds up on the wrong side of a criminal case. When THEY are the ones accused they, all of a sudden, become defenders of the 6th amendment. You could call it poetic justice, karma, what have you.

    I do not want to see any misfortune for Mr. Beeson. Hopefully, neither he, nor any of his friends or family, gets charged with a crime. But, if it were to happen, I'll bet he has a much different view of the defense function.

  3. Anonymous4:17 PM

    This is unacceptable. I am quite critical of the criminal defense bar in many respects and have angered our blog host here on that point before. But one thing I will say is that public defenders ARE a needed part of the system and they should have funding parity with the prosecution. There is something wrong with a legal system where your legal penalties decrease in proportion to how much you can pay a private lawyer, rather than the actual facts of the case. I can't say how many times I have seen people with similar fact patterns get jacked because they have a public defender, or get their case reduced down to peanuts because they afford good private counsel. For the same crime in similar circumstances.