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." 

Or as A. R., Assistant Public Defender, put it:

"A moose is something that is perfectly legal, but that you would be ashamed to tell your mother about."

Thus, every year at our office holiday party, the person who best represents this ideal receives The Moose Award, and gets to keep the mug in his or her office for the year.

A couple of years ago, I received an award from This Here State's Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (mostly private attorneys), for refusing to conduct a trial for which I was unprepared (more on this later).   I mention the award only because, never having concerned myself with awards too much, I was surprised by how nice it felt to be recognized by a group of my fellow defense attorneys. And I got a nice plaque!  In response to the trial-refusal thing, I had gotten a lot of shit from the press, prosecutors, and judges, and was feeling a little beaten down, thus making it especially nice to have my people say, "Hey, you did the right thing."

That was during a time that we older felony attorneys call 'The Great Unpleasantness"--we were outnumbered about 2.5 to 1 by the prosecutors and we could not keep up, which lead to a lot of stress, drinking, facial tics, and depression.

The next Christmas, I wondered why we at the public defenders' office didn't give each other awards. I can handle not being recognized by the general public or the judges and prosecutors--some days I would settle for a more benign contempt--but why don't we recognize ourselves? Isn't an award really just a group agreeing that one of its members has done a good job representing qualities that the group values?  Also, in my opinion, our office was getting a little lost (myself included) and what better way to reinforce our priorities, than to print certificates on quality paper?

We came up with some light-hearted awards--"Best Dressed," "Most Hated by the Prosecutors," "Most Improved," and "Best Use of a Seinfeld Defense:"

"Because, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, Shrinkage Happens!"
But then, after the lighter awards, we decided to present a couple of awards that The Party Committee hoped emphasized our values.  The two major awards we presented were:

 "In recognition of the fine art of extracting justice from the unwilling through fearless advocacy. Uncowed by caution and self-interest, the trouble-maker of the year speaks truth to power to fight for clients' rights, when more timid souls would refrain.
Trouble-maker, we salute you!"

We made the last award a life-time achievement award, named after a public defender who had passed away a few years earlier.

"In recognition of excellence in the noble calling of public defense.  For years of toil and personal sacrifice protecting people from the government; for recognizing the humanity of every individual; and for refusing to be intimidated by power and accepted social conventions." 
It's funny--all we did was sit in someone's office one day, brainstorm a few ideas, and then print out hasitly formatted certificates on cardstock.  While I was printing and gluing, one guy ran to the dollar store and bought picture frames, while another gal cut out fight-the-power fists that had been printed on gold paper.

When it came time for our Awards Ceremony, I was afraid that everyone would think the whole thing was stupid and corny--maybe there was a reason we didn't give out awards beside the Moose?

Our co-workers, family and friends laughed and clapped along with the presentations, though, and when it came time to give out the Lifetime Achievement Award, we read the certificate, and announced the name of a lawyer who has worked in our office for 25 years, a humble, compassionate man who believes in his work and the good of all souls.  When he heard his name, he at first looked stunned, and then as he walked up the stairs to receive the award, still holding his young son he had forgotten to put down, his tears fell, as ours did too.

Coming Tomorrow:  Public Defender Award Templates!


Anonymous said...

hey guys- just wanted to shout out & let you know that you have a lot of fellow PDs in south carolina following along. keep sticking it to the man!!! & hey, i saw you said to join yep we can by emailing you but didn't see an email address anywhere...

carol d said...

Hey there, South Carolina PDs--thanks for the encouragement--it's great to know I'm not just talking to myself--but I'm thinking, Holy Crap, I've got responsibilities now (OK, I guess my clients and my car payments are responsibilities, but this is different). Sorry about the email--I was moving things around and things get a little dicey when I try to screw with html, which I hadn't really known about before 3 weeks ago. You can email: frayedknotpd@gmail.com You can join anonymously, or not--I'll just keep an email list for now, but we're in the process of setting up a nonprofit organization, and we'll keep you updated. P.s., WA state is far from you guys, but I went to U. Texas Law ...