Judicial Abuse of Public Defenders
Public Defenders have been doing a good job of bringing attention to the horrible things that happen to our clients.
I want to talk a bit about some of the horrible things that happen to us, as public defenders, because that matters to our clients, too.
In the last week, I've had a judge mock me for pointing out that a new case my client had been arrested on was "only an allegation." And I do mean mock. It was mean, intentional, persistent, and felt like schoolyard bullying.
I had not been rude or disrespectful in any way. I'd calmly (with great effort) responded to her long tirade about how a nonviolent arrest meant that my client needed to be thrown in jail. Nothing has been proven. No discovery had been turned over.
After this judge threw my client in jail, I went back to the cell to talk to them. The client immediately says "She has it out for you. How do I get a new lawyer? Because she hates you. I won't get anywhere with you because she hates you."
I don't have a response to that. It's heartbreaking. I've done nothing unprofessional, made arguments any good defense attorney would make, and now my client feels unsafe because of how poorly I, his lawyer, was treated.
Earlier, when the same judge refused to take a plea that was absolutely fair and the DA and I were comfortable with, that client wondered whether they could have taken it if they had a "paid lawyer."
I say "probably not," but I'm actually unsure, because my colleagues and I are definitely treated worse than the private bar on a regular basis. We try not to take it personally when judges abuse us, but our clients notice, and it scares them.
Another day, a different judge tried to refuse to accept a timely, important motion I'd been at the office until 9:30 pm the night before writing, because she was annoyed about the 2-3 weeks it would delay the trial. If I didn't file it, it would waive the argument on appeal.
I'm not a proud person. It annoys me when I'm treated poorly for no reason, but it normally rolls off me like the 10,000,000 other stupid things I deal with as a public defender on a daily basis.
But judges should be aware that their poor treatment of Public Defenders erodes public faith in the criminal justice system even further. It reinforces the idea that getting a public defender means you don't have a chance. We are overwhelmingly great lawyers.
I am a professional. I went to a top-10 law school on full scholarship. I've won every trial I've been lead counsel on. The fact that my clients think they are not in good hands because of how I am treated speaks volumes about the state of our courts.
Poverty is not a crime, but by treating public defenders terribly, judges reinforce the belief our clients already have that everything is stacked against them because they're poor. It would be lovely if they'd cut that out.
NAPD Note: This content originally appeared on Dani's Twitter account. She has consolidated the original thread for our blog. If you want to follow the thread and read the responses (or add some of your own), you can find it at https://twitter.com/DanielleJWelch/status/1095510423783264256