Small Steps Forward: My Newest Hero
Not all victories are marked by the glorious words, “not guilty.” There are other quieter, subtler victories. And buried among the cat videos, and viral defense attorney ads, there’s a YouTube video that celebrates the more frequent public defender victories.
In a talk at Harvard, Kentucky Training Director Jeff Sherr uses a probation violation hearing to demonstrate the impact a calm, cool, collected and well-trained public defender can have. Since court proceedings in Kentucky are video taped, instead of transcribed by a court reporter, you get to see my newest hero, Missy Goodman in action. Missy is a public defender in Pikeville, Kentucky, home of the Hatfields and McCoys.
On the video, the judge attempts to revoke the client’s probation. Missy challenges the stubborn judge with case law, keeps her cool when the judge threatens her, preserves the record, and….loses her argument.
But she makes a come back upon appeal! Even though her client had to spend some time in jail, the appeals court ruled that his probation was improperly revoked. These more quotidian interactions with judges are just as important as our trials. A probation revocation hearing, or even a bail hearing, can have as much an impact on a person’s liberty as a criminal conviction.
This victory, like many of our victories is not just the result of a plucky heroine’s gumption, but about a team of attorneys who work together and train each other on the law and advocacy. If Missy hadn’t received the recent training discussed in the video, it’s unlikely she would have had just the right case at her fingertips to waive at the judge.
I reached out to Missy to see if the judge made good on his threat to punish all her clients for her insistence that he follow the law. She didn’t risk finding out. Through teamwork with her colleagues made sure that even if she was doing the work in the background, the judge never knew that she was the attorney of record on her probation cases before him.
Watching Jeff Sherr’s Harvard talk, you won’t see the evil judge vanquished at the end, but you’ll see the weighty boulder of injustice pushed a little to the side by a team of hardworking attorneys, led, yes, by a plucky heroine with gumption.