Representative John Lewis once said that as Public Defenders it is our duty to “Get in the Way”.  Such seemingly simple, yet powerful words.  They convey images of single warrior standing tall in the face of seemingly immense power and fighting until the end, regardless of the result.  Or the group of unarmed individuals walking arm–in–arm, ready to face down and stand united against whatever opposing force comes their way.  Success is not defined by the immediate result, but rather the will to stand up against a larger force, determined to fight to the bitter end, for that in which you believe.  This phrase, this frame of mind, when applied to the way we do our work, has so much meaning and strength.

Get in the Way.

When applied to the work we do as Public Defenders, can have an incredible importance and positive impact upon the life of each individual we represent.  This mantra should be a standard which guides us in everything we do.  I heard of Representative Lewis’ words for the first time several years ago.  It has stayed with me ever since; effecting the way I do my job on a daily basis.  His guidance has improved the way I do my job.  It has become an arrow in my shiver, drawn back and propelled directly at the Government when they try to use their power and resources to remove another person I represent from their families and free society.

Get in the Way.

There are a great many pressures on us as Public Defenders, due to our overwhelming caseloads and inadequate resources, to fall into the pattern of working to “Move Cases”.  The system is designed to pressure us to resolve cases quickly and be more concerned with closing cases, instead of giving that “million dollar defense” to each and every person we represent.  We get this message from all fronts, sometimes even from within our own ranks.  We are told it is important to resolve cases, so we can concentrate on those cases where we have a good defense.  This message is wrong.  It should not and must not be the guiding principle in the way we do our jobs.  Instead, we must remember and remind those we lead, that we owe a single minded duty of uncompromised and unrelenting defense to each and every person we represent.  Even those people whose cases on first blush, seem rather bleak.

Get in the Way.

To quote a great lawyer, David Singleton:  “The Difference We Make is Measured not Necessarily by Whether We Win, but How Hard We Fight”.

Sometimes newer Public Defenders believe they are not successful if they have not yet developed a list of big victories—winning a case against all odds when everyone believed and even expected the person they represent to be convicted.  That is not true.  Our worth as Public Defenders is not only measured in the victories we achieve, but also in the fight we wage every day.  Every Public Defender who enters the courtroom, ready to fight regardless of the allegations or the professed strength of the Prosecution’s case, is making a positive difference.  Every time we fight for a person we represent, we have a positive impact on that person’s life.  Even if we do not hear those two wonderful little words “Not Guilty” or had a judge rule in our favor, suppressing all evidence the police seized, ….. we make a difference.

It is important for Public Defenders, both young and like me not so young, to remember to Keep Fighting, even when the number of consecutive defeats we face grows larger and larger.  We must remember, to never give up on ourselves or the people we represent.  Even if the victories have not come for a while, we must always be reminded we ARE making a difference.  As long as we are out there fighting, with all our might and energy, we are having a positive effect on the lives of each person we represent.  When we start to get frustrated, it is imperative we remember the amazing message of David Singleton and Representative Lewis.

Keep Fighting and Get in the Way

We all have and will go through those periods when it seems like you can’t win a single argument, much less a trial.  It seems like time–after–time, all you hear is “motion denied” or “guilty as charged”.  You lose faith.  You doubt yourself.  DO NOT.  You ARE great.  By standing up and not backing down, you are making the life of each person you represent better.  Because if you weren’t standing there fighting for the people you represent, they would never stand a chance.  Public Defenders are special people.  You give every person you represent hope.  Hope for a better outcome.  Hope for a second chance.  Hope for a way out from overbearing and unfeeling force of the Government.  Hope is Never a Bad thing.

The Government wants you to give up, …….. Do Not.  The Government wants you to go quietly into that good night, ….. Keep Screaming, Keep Fighting.  Because if you step aside, people who are not fighting tirelessly for every person they represent will take your place.  They will not do their jobs in a client centered way.  They will not fight as hard and with the same passion as you.  They will not Get in the Way.  There will be no more Hope.  If you stay with it and keep fighting, you will eventually break through and start to see the victories once again.  The Not Guiltys will come.  Evidence WILL be suppressed.  Charges will be dismissed.  The Hope you provide WILL be replaced by Victory.  Victory that leads to Freedom.

It will not be long before you win a case where everyone knows that if it hadn’t been for your talent and passion, the person you represented would not have stood a chance.  They would have lost their freedom.  But because of you.  Because you Got in the Way.  Because you represented the person in a client centered way.  Because you kept fighting, no matter what the odds, the person you represented will walk out of the courthouse a free person.  Free to return to their loved ones.  Free to return to their families.  Free because of YOU.  And there is no better feeling than knowing that you were able to turn that person’s hope into freedom.  If it hasn’t happened yet, …….. IT WILL.  But it will never happen if you don’t keep fighting.

Keep Getting in the Way.  Always remember, you are great for the fight you wage every day, not only for the positive results you achieve.