Saturday, January 30, 2010


Even though PDR is based in the dark, godforsaken Inland Northwest (sorry--January and February are a little rough up here; summer is lovely), I'm from Texas, and attended both undergrad and law school at the University of Texas at Austin. As much as I loved Austin, I haven't been back since I set out for Seattle in a U-Haul 17 years ago. So when K. Moran (hereinafter, "Little Crazy") discovered that NACDL was holding a conference in Austin this year, we said we'd try to go. 

At the same time that Little Crazy was planning the Austin trip, we started this blog, and the combination of a few reader emails and my thinking about Austin led to a profound bout of nostalgia. I don't give a damn about football, the color orange or any of that crap, but I would sell my soul for a night at Antone's or pool at the Hole in the Wall (is it still there and is the jukebox still free?) and a plate of migas in the morning.

The best part of my college experience was working at The Daily Texan, UT's student newspaper. In the small-world category, I worked there with Scott Henson, of Grits for Breakfast, who was a scary-smart iconoclast, even then, but also funny and kind--and I now know he is a super-human writer, not only as a one-man criminal-justice revolution, but also due to the quality work he posts.  Little Crazy and I are like:  How does he write so well and so fast? Maybe I will make him a certificate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Overheard at the Public Defenders' Office: You Know You're Doing a Good Job When . . .

PUBLIC DEFENDER TO PROSECUTOR WHILE WAITING FOR A VERDICT:  "Hey, I know you sometimes don't like me, but I want you to know that you did a nice job on the trial."

PROSECUTING ATTORNEY:  "Sometimes don't like you?  I NEVER like you."

Blog Remnants


I got a lot of feedback regarding "The Moose"--specifically, that my moose story was not historically accurate. In my defense, I'll say that 1) I've heard so many different versions of the moose story over the years that I doubt a historically accurate version of the parable exists; and 2) I am a defense attorney, remember? I twist massage the historical facts of stories for a living.

Nevertheless, I consulted the Keeper of the Moose Memories. I know that he is the Keeper of the Moose because he is the PD who was quoted on the Moose Mug, and because his office features the following Guard Moose:

The Keeper of the Moose told me that my moose story was OK--that I had captured the essence of the Moose. The Keeper also mentioned that one of the reasons the original moose story took hold was because the super-obnoxious prosecutor kept telling people, in all seriousness, "there are only about 5,000 moose in This Here County, and thus killing one moose is like killing 10,000 people."

Anyway, I'm glad that a guy whose office features a decorative depiction of a moose sitting on a toilet in an outhouse doesn't think I defiled the myth.

I have to admit that if the Keeper of the Moose had demanded it, I would have retracted my moose story, because besides moose paraphernalia, the Keeper of the Moose has a Big Can of Whoop Ass on his shelf.

(And why, oh why the bottle of rubbing alcohol?)

An anonymous reader relayed a tattoo story:

I had a client get a new tattoo on the back of his neck a week or so after I was appointed to him on: Misd. Battery, Kidnapping, Grand Theft, and Rape. The tattoo: 'REDRUM.' Later it looked like he scratched the second 'R' so that it looked like a 'B.' We agreed that if the case went to trial he would wear something to cover it.


Izaak wrote:
The copyright ran out on Monopoly's get-out-of-jail-free cards two years ago. I've had them printed on the back of my business cards. Almost everybody I know thinks it's totally awesome or totally juvenile, but I think that reflects people's opinions of me generally.
Coincidentally, I had been planning on making a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Holiday Ornament for next year's Holiday Party, based on this: (via craftzine)

But I like Isaak's idea of a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free business card even better. Now that I think of it, Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free may indeed be the ultimate public-defender business card.

I also discovered some Ecological Business Cards . . .

. . . and found that I have long been ahead of this Eco trend:

It is seriously embarrassing how often I do this.

At least it's Green.

(Here's how these scrap cards happen:  Client asks for my card in court, I dig in my bag and find chocolate, a bottle of hot sauce, and 12 kinds of sticky notes, but no cards.  I rip a piece off whatever paper is handy, and write "Carol" on it.  I'm the only Carol at my office, and people often think my last name is a kind of beer, so I leave my last name off.  But then I think about all of the trials I've had where the cops claim that names on little scraps of paper = drug dealer, and I don't want the cops finding it and thinking I'm a dealer, but I also don't want my client to forget who wrote the card and call me for a fix.  Hence, the arrow from "Carol" to lawyer, just so every one is clear on that.  And then because reaching me by telephone is a total crap-shoot, "ask for my paralegal if you can't reach me and you're freaking out."


A reader sent a link to an article by Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post writer who recently sat on a jury.  Mr. Weingarten wrote a clear and damning account of police officers lying in their testimony on the drug delivery case, stating that he would have voted to acquit (he ended up being an alternate), even though the case had been proved BRD to him, because he found the police misconduct so abhorrent.  Here--he says it better than I do:
"I believe they had the right guy, too. But the willingness to cheat, I think, is a poisonous corruption of a system designed to protect the innocent at the risk of occasionally letting the guilty walk free. It's a good system, fundamental to freedom. I think a police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler."
As much as I want to find this man and hug him, what struck me was his wide-eyed processing of the incident--the cops testilying and wasting ridiculous amounts of money for nothing was clearly not what Mr. Weingarten expected.

Almost every one of us--public defender or private defense--however, would expect this.  Cops lying to convict someone they have decided is guilty happens every day, we just don't always catch them.  A bazillion dollars wasted on Cowboy Drug Units to bust small-time addicts happens every day every where in this country, as well.  Why do we know this and reporters don't?

In thinking about this disconnect, I noticed that over the years, I have changed how I tell some of my stories.  My criminal-defense lawyer friends get the whole, straight story.  But I stopped telling "normal" people about parts of the system, because they clearly didn't believe what I was saying--if I would try to describe how some cops and prosecutors are, the normal person's eyes would glaze over and I would be dismissed as a radical.  Meanwhile, I'm living in this crazy world and I know what's happening, but "normal" people prefer to believe the TV version of our court system, rather than the reality that is wasting billions of dollars, and worse, our clients lives. (Not to mention the toll on the spunky defender-gals!)

It was all of that--the disconnect between the perception and the reality of our court system, combined with the public-defender issues--that spurred me to write this blog.  I hope you can imagine how I felt when a lawyer who had just transferred to a defender job wrote to me:
"I thought I was prepared for what this work would feel like -- but I was not at all prepared for the Alice-down-the-rabbithole experience of my interactions with judges and other attorneys. Your blog is a great, sanity-inducing voice in the wilderness! So thanks for that."
I hope you can imagine how it felt to read that, because it was pretty awesome--not just because someone finally said that I am sane--but because we can only cure this disconnect by talking about it, blogging it, reporting, tweeting, texting, whatever--and if we don't do it, who will?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Public Defender Award Certificates

The first in a series of public defender-designed and produced award certificates.  Click on the image to enlarge and print.  If you have an award suggestion, please comment or email us!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Moose and Men

For years, the only award presented by our office was the "Moose" award, in the early days a mere title, but later upgraded to a beer stein with a pewter, masculine moose head on the lid.  Very North Idaho, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, Lo, these many years ago, a public defender in This Here County had a trial involving a Moose Charge.  We like to think that no case is unwinnable, but the Moose case was looking like a tough one: audio, video, confession, etc.   And the cocky, young public defender faced losing his first trial.  The defender sat with his client, dejected, as witness after witness came in to tell the jury about some aspect of his client's guilt.

Even as he stood up to present his closing argument, the young defender had no idea what he could possibly say, when inspiration struck:  He argued that the state had failed to prove whether the moose was a male or female, and because each moose gender had a different hunting season (although both male and female were banned on the date in question), the state had failed to prove that the moose was a moose that was out of season.  The logic held together just long enough for the jury to find the client "not guilty."  And thus began the Moose:  If a public defender wins a case through a clever and unexpected manipulation of the law or facts, it is referred to in This Here County as a "Moose." 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Got Guilt?

A couple of years ago, I attended a criminal-defense CLE—I don’t remember where or what it was about, or even who the speaker was, but one woman’s comment during a discussion period still resonates:

“I used to be a public defender,” she said,” and all I did was run around with too much to do, feeling guilty all the time.”

Wait, what did she say? Feeling guilty all the time?

But … you mean … It’s not just me?

I remember the waves of relief that washed over me. Until the woman’s comment, I hadn’t registered the constant guilt I felt—about the things I couldn’t get done in a day, the phone calls I hadn’t returned, the client I couldn’t help, the judges’ badmouthing of me behind my back, the constant criticism from prosecutors, the inability to be in two places at one time--and how much that unexamined guilt was abasing me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Client Art Part 2

One client has become a talented crocheter. Check out the roses!

This jewel box is made of Popsicle sticks. The bed lifts up to reveal storage space.

This picture frame was made with potato chip bags. Given that a bag of chips is $2.00 on commissary, this is one expensive picture frame.

Still Life: Public Defenders

Years ago, a former client of our office took up Origami during his prolonged pre-trial detention awaiting his murder trial. He used his brown-paper lunch bags as the material for his art (until the jail guards stopped giving him lunch bags anymore, just to fuck with him. So then we sent him loads of yellow legal pads through legal mail. Ha!)

In this piece, the client-artist used a unique combination of toilet paper and M & Ms (for color) to create his work.

I've seen PDs who blithely take on clients charged with rape, murder, molestation and mayhem refuse to represent a client accused of animal cruelty. We've got our standards! And we like dogs better than we like most people.

Sometimes our clients like us, too.

In this piece, the client-artist used unraveled jail socks to craft a macrame necklace. Practice tip: Watch out for the stretchy version of this art-form--it is probably made of unraveled jail underwear.

Cup O Dragons: paper lunch bag and ice-cream cup.

The attorney-artist used vinyl and her Cricut Expressions machine to create this piece.

This scares me:

It scares the dragons, too. Back in the cup, everyone!

I won't say we wondered where Orgami Guy was, since we all knew where he'd be spending a very long time, but I did wonder if he still did Origami, or if he had moved on to other crafts.  Then, one day, the gal across the hall from me got a present that one of her clients had sent her from prison.

When she looked at the bottom of the piece, she saw that it was signed by, none other than, our own Orgami Guy!

Some days we need words of encouragement.

Keep calm? RUFK?

And just when you're about ready to jump out the courthouse window, you get a present from an alleged OK, convicted manslaughterer featuring you as an awesome superhero, and even though no one else sees you that way, and the client was probably just bored--the world is good, and you can fight for another day!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Overheard at the Public Defender's Office, No. 3

SUPERVISING ATTORNEY:  I was just over at court, and I had something happen--something that hasn't happened in my 28 years of practice ...

PUBLIC DEFENDER:  You won a case?

How to be a Public Defender Revolutionary, Part III

Part III: Interpreting Caseload Standards

In earlier installments (Part I and Part II), I discussed the recent ABA Ethics Opinion that gives public defenders the power and duty to refuse excessive caseloads, and why "caseload standards"  numbers are arbitrary but useful as an absolute maximum and a starting point for more in-depth caseload analysis.

Why care about  ABA opinions and policy standards that are repetitive and tedious, when they have thus far failed to reform public defense?  Because I am suggesting to you--my brother and sister public defenders--that one day many of you will reach a breaking point.  That you will realize that you have too much to do, and no matter how you learn to play the system and fight for the clients, that you can't do it all, and then you'll realize that some of your clients may be suffering and you are as well.  You may end up standing in your bedroom one weekend, trying to run through the list of upcoming trials (burglary next week, then assault 2, then back to burglary and then that bullshit stolen vehicle one and then the vehicular homicide and you know there's another one and you can't remember it) twitching.  Oh wait, that was me.

When you reach this point, your options have been traditionally pretty limited: 1) leave the job; 2) have a mental breakdown; 3) stay in the job a broken, lesser version of yourself.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Calendar: PD Pin-Up Edition

I just want the record to be clear: I thought of the Public Defender Calendar first. But my follow-through sucks sometimes.

The seed for a PD Calendar (and a PD public relations campaign) came to me, strangely, from the Archer Daniels Midland company. About 10 years ago, I heard a story called The Fix Is In on This American Life, an outrageous tale of price fixing and criminal corporate behavior. I didn’t think much about it again until I saw ads on public television featuring wholesome American images with a feel-good slogan, and then the “ADM” logo superimposed over all of it. I thought, Holy Shit, those are the guys that lied and cheated, etc.—Don’t NPR and public television talk to each other? But that ad series made me think about the power of public relations advertising: that the image can be more important than the facts.

After years of living with the misconceptions and bad press that public defenders have, I realized that if Public Defense were a corporation, the first thing it would do is launch a PR campaign. Which led to many, many ideas, but one of those ideas was The Men and Women of the County Defenders' Office Calendar.

Last year, a friend and I signed our attorneys up for the PDs calendar, and the plan was to have the calendars ready by this year for Holiday presents (imagine the prosecutors, judges and cops as they opened their gifts!)--but then a budget crises tore our office apart, dividing us against each other for the first time I can remember, and no one was making a calendar.

But Mr. Adachi—be still our public-defender hearts—produced a public defender calendar this year! We can’t decide if we are mad at him for preempting our idea (as if!), or if it makes us smarter that we sort of had the same idea that he had.

Mr. Adachi, the head of the San Francisco Public Defenders' Office, has been in a long battle with the city's commissioners (at least he is fighting, eh?), and this year produced his budget report in the form of a PD Calendar that not only contained the budget numbers, but showcased his lawyers as valiant fighters for the poor. Nice!

Even nicer than the calendars, is the image of Mr. Adachi as the leader of his public-defender troops. We would like to be considered for adoption, please.

Mr. Adachi has inspired us to finally format our own Public Defender Calendar for This Here County 2010. Order your copy now, before they're all gone:

Coming tomorrow:  How to Be a Public Defender Revolutionary, Part III (Crunch the Numbers!) (We here at PDR apologize for the delay in this important post--sometimes we have a lot of silliness we have to get out before we can get down to real work.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Public Defender Heroes: Update

A PD Hero (see, For MLK Day, Public Defender Heroes), submitted by an anonymous reader:

On any given Friday afternoon in the public defenders' office, Jorgé (not his real name) will hold "court" for newbies and veterans alike.  In Jorgé's office, one can seek advice on how to deal with that unreasonable prosecutor, difficult client, or troubling ruling from the judge ... he is a true war-time consiliari, with advice that is consistently right-on.  I have always wanted to make a sign that says "Advice: $Free" for his door.  Jorgé is a ninja pd--he achieves great results, but with a modesty that declines the ego recognition many of us need--the same modesty that will make him super mad that he is included in this post.  (But we don't care--we are rebels!)  I would have quit thirteen years ago (before I graduated from law school) without his guidance and example. Jorgé is a true believer and an inspiration to all of us.  If what we do in life really echos in eternity, Jorgé's compassion and mad skills will live on.

Jorgé, you are our hero.

Blogkeeping Notes No. 3

As much as I feel (a probably undeserved) solidarity with graffiti artists, and as much as I like graffiti, PDR's graffiti-header didn't feel right to me.  Maybe because I felt like a poseur, having never actually sprayed paint from a can on a brick wall.  But I think my hesitation came from the fact that although I adore graffiti's fuck-you charm, it doesn't necessarily elicit public-defender-ness.  I needed something--not necessarily a straight representation of the public defender--but something more evocative of our work.

Hmmm ... court house? six-pack of beer? a jail cell?  Nothing felt right.  And then I looked down at my brain-storming list.  What do we all use?  Ratty, yellow pads.  In tight budget times, our managers have been known to search our offices and round up all of the pads with remaining pages, which causes people to hoard them, which means there are none left when I open the door to the supply cabinet on my way out the door to trial.

Even with computers, I still use yellow pads all the time (when I can find one).  And I'm really not sure why they're yellow--I heard that yellow causes less eye strain--or if I believe this, but if given a choice between yellow and white, I'll choose yellow.  It's like white was for high school and college, and yellow is for court.  I doodle and scribble all over them, which is the only thing that keeps me from running screaming from the courtroom some days.

So, goodbye, Graffiti Theme, hello, Ratty Yellow Pad.  In an homage to the short-lived graffiti header, some eye candy from a New York company that is putting its own spin on graffiti:

A set of china I would buy for most of my public defender friends--you know, the ones who consider their decorative water bottle an ample nod to tableware.  New York Delft by lovegroverepucci combines the "classic tradition of Dutch Delft craftsmanship" and the street art and imagery of New York City in a porcelain dinnerware collection.

I haven't had much use for fine porecelain, until now.  Public defender friends, here is your wedding gift from me from now on:

Each place setting is made of fine porcelain and has five pieces; a dinner plate, side plate, soup bowl, cup and saucer.  I am sorry if it is redundant to post these additional images, but I do love the police-car plate, garbage-truck soup bowl, and hot-dog-stand cup so much--

My favorite piece of all, though, is the street-light napkin:

 You can also watch lovegrove's promotional YouTube video:

The innovation shown in the combination of modern street art and centuries-old china parallels the work that we do as lawyers:  we find inspiration in the artistry of our colleagues and heores, and then transform their work into something relevant to our client.   If we're lucky, we stumble on new methods to make our clients' stories resonate with an audience that understands as little about them as my grandmother does about graffiti, or as little as a street kid connects with centuries-old Dutch craftsmanship. As public defenders, we derive our skills from our heroes and role models--and not only is our well of inspiration deeper than our opponents, but our creative power is enhanced because we understand that there is beauty in the street.