Saturday, January 2, 2010

PDR Manifesto

We will fight for anyone.

We will fight for the innocent, the underdog, the unlucky, and the guilty. We will fight the power. Because if we know anything as public defenders, we know that people in power tend to abuse it. We may not have known this when we started our jobs, but we learned it about 5 minutes into it, when the prosecutor wanted to send our first client to jail for a year for driving without a license. We learned it when the judge put our client in jail for being 5 minutes late to court (and we then tried to figure out what to do with the client's dog left locked in the car). We learned it when the judge told us we had to go to trial on a case he had just appointed us on.

Maybe we didn't know how to fight at first, either. But we learned it when we told the prosecutor that if he wanted a year for driving suspended, he could prove it at a jury trial, with a constitutional challenge thrown in for fun. We learned it when we took the dog to the client's girlfriend's house, against all office policy. We learned it when we told the judge we would not do a trial unprepared. We learned how tough we can be when the judge threatened to put us in jail, and we just shrugged, "Go ahead, but I'm not doing this trial." The lesson became a part of us when the judge backed down and gave us a continuance.

But there's one thing we haven't figured out: How to fight for ourselves. I don't know if we're too busy, or too tired, or only like fighting other people's battles--but we haven't figured out how to advocate for our own public-defender rights. It seems so strange that lawyers who specialize in questioning authority seemingly bow to it regarding systems of public defense. We have no real organized voice, and because of this, allow the people in power to define our world.

I know this sounds a little theoretical, but the real-world implications abound. I am going to get to the details of my argument in coming posts, but first, for today, let me clarify my thesis: We, as street-level public defenders, have to unite. We have to unite and advocate for the changes we know we need. We can't leave it to our bosses, or the courts, or the bar associations, or legislatures to do it for us. We have to fight for ourselves, because no one else really wants to do it, or can do it.

And here's how I can sell it to you: By fighting for ourselves, we're really fighting for our clients.

So, join PD revolution--it's not my revolution, it's ours, and we've got to get going!

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