There is a spot on the wall of my office that visitors cannot easily see. When I sit at my desk, I can see it clearly. In that spot hangs small reminders that sometimes, just sometimes, the system gets it right. Reminders that sometimes, just sometimes, all of our fight and determination can bring a good result for our clients. There hangs a blanket knitted by the wife of a client to thank me for helping her mentally ill husband to be healthy and free for the birth of their first child, an order granting a new trial for an innocent client, and the order dismissing all charges against Mr. Jose Padilla after his case was returned from the United States Supreme Court. Those are the items that gave me strength when the system gets it wrong, when all my fight and determination isn’t enough to save a client.
Mr. Padilla’s Order had special significance because it was a symbol of a time that a defender, prosecutor and judge all came together and saw a man, not a charge. The entire system looked at Jose Padilla and saw a bronze star awarded Vietnam Veteran, a father who cares for his disabled adult children, a grandfather who plays with his grandchildren, a dedicated husband, and a 50 year resident of the United States. With everybody seeing Mr. Padilla as a person, the system was able to do the right thing – – dismiss all charges so Mr. Padilla was not at risk of deportation.

For two years I rode high on that success. Creative advocacy that focused on the client worked. All was right in the world. A year ago, it all went horribly wrong. Suddenly Mr. Padilla was facing deportation based on two non-violent property crimes from decades ago. The charges that all the experts promised would not put him at risk of deportation. And then, the world came crashing down, Mr. Padilla was ordered removed from the United States. Ordered to leave his home of 50 years. I cannot imagine the pain and despair felt by Mr. Padilla and his family. I do know what I felt. I felt lost and confused. I felt angry. I felt despair. I felt helpless.
This past Tuesday I was given the opportunity to write a letter on behalf of Jose Padilla to attach to his application for a pardon from Governor Brown of California. A pardon that would allow Mr. Padilla to become a citizen and avoid deportation. But I still felt helpless. How would one letter make a difference? Could one defender have a voice loud enough to be heard by Governor Brown?
It then hit me – I am a public defender so I do not have to be a single voice.  I am part of a community that has a booming nationwide voice. Together, we make a difference. Our joint voice could just possibly be loud enough for Governor Brown to hear. But with letters due by Friday, was there enough time? I doubted people would have time to join in my support for Mr. Padilla’s petition for a pardon.
I should have had more confidence in the booming voice of public defense. Within a day of my plea for help, my community circled their wagons around Mr. Padilla. Tired, overworked defenders with many battles of their own to fight joined the fight for Mr. Padilla. Within a day, the letters started to arrive. Letters from strong defenders from New Jersey, to Minnesota, to California. Letters from defender agencies and organizations including Gideon’s Promise and Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy. In less than a day, the National Association for Public Defense and its 17,000 members added their strong and determined voice, asking Governor Brown to pardon Mr. Padilla.
I’m still afraid and worried, but I have new hope. Hope that when we come together, we can make a difference in the face of these troubling times. On my wall I will now add the NAPD letter of support for Mr. Padilla, along with letters from other strong defenders. These letters are a symbol of our strength when we unite. A showing of our shared support for all clients. Proof that we will always support one another as defenders.
I hope that I will also get to add Mr. Padilla’s pardon to my wall. But for now, I will find strength in our community of strong, determined and caring defenders.