The Most Wonderful Retort: Please do
San Francisco Assistant Public Defender Jami Tillotson taught me the most wonderful retort: “Please do.”
In the courthouse corridor yesterday, Jamie Tillotson was the consummate professional. She kept her head and considered her options while never missing a beat. In a calm voice she invited the police to do what they would because was not going to stop doing her job; she was not going to stop protecting her client.
There are times to pound the table, but, here, she did not need to raise hell; to do so would have compromised her position. And she knew the law, for once, was on her side.
In my 17 years as a public defender, I have never been arrested for doing my job. Any time an exceptional controversy has arisen, my colleagues and I have talked about the risk of being perceived as contemptuous for simply standing up for our clients. Everyone assures the attorney in question that should he or she be jailed for fighting for the cause, they will receive cards, visits and, if possible, bail money. But these are always jokes –self-righteous comic relief necessary to soothe our anxieties in an environment where people do an unpopular job that they love.
Jami Tillotson’s hour chained to bars was for real.
Whether it happened in our fantasies or in Jami’s reality, the emotional goal is the same: fearlessness. Fearlessness is the state to which we aspire as advocates in a system that frequently fails to serve our clients. Fearlesness is just what Jami Tillotson exhibited in that courthouse corridor. She embraced her power and never exceeded it.
So, now I have a new phrase in my wordsmith toolbox: “Please do.” And the next time I have to say “I dare you” in a professional way, I think I will use it.
Thank you, Jami, for doing what we all hoped we would have done: go above and beyond to protect the people we serve.