Monday, November 10, 2008

Public Defenders under Seige in Miami...and everywhere

When my oldest nephew became a public defender in Miami, he made us all proud. Growing up a poor kid from a farming community not even big enough for a post office, his origins were Abe Lincoln-like. He zigzagged through life meandering into interesting places...from Hollywood to Costa Rica...while we watched and wondered where he'd land.

After law school and passing the bar a few times, he landed in Miami last year. Last night he emailed to say that his office was featured in the NYTimes last weekend, the story illustrated with a video about his friend. Arthur, his former colleague, quit his post in the public defenders office due to a staggering case load. My eyes glaze over when Arthur shows us the computer printout of his cases taped to his office wall.

A justice system that works under girds a democracy. When the public defenders have to say "NO MORE CASES" it is time to fix a system that isn't working. Do click over to watch the video or read the article here (I can't embed it, sorry). The short video is really worthwhile, informative and interesting.

What do you think about the state of justice for the poor in our nation?

And--to my sobrino, who occasionally checks out Border Explorer--"Gracias por todo tu trabajo para los pobres. Me siento orgullosa de ti."

[photo credit: NY Times. Arthur on the job for the public defenders office. Bless those guys!]

21 comments:

Distributorcap said...

the federal justice dept has become so politicized over the past 8 years - and i would assume a lot of the states have as well - it is almost as if neither organization wants to improve the system - just throw the bums in jail without a trial and leave them there forever.

we dont hear about the state problems in other states - but the federal judicial system is a joke - 10 of 13 circuit courts have bush appointees (for life) that basically were given litmus tests (remember MOnica Goodling) to get appointed.

in miami, where there a lot of immigration related cases - i can only imagine how bad it gets.

besides we are too busy bailing out rich bankers to worry about poor schlubs who cant get a fair trial

fixing the justice system is going to be one of the hardest things for Obama to do -- it will take years. and since it is not sexy, nor does it directly affect most americans - it will not get the publicity it needs

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Unfortunately, the situation with the Miami Public Defenders is not new. I began working with public defenders when I was a young social worker in the 1970s. There have always seemed to be too few public defenders and too many cases requiring their services. Their funding seems to be cut regularly, as if the powers that be want them to just disappear. That’s sad.

I have the highest respect for the men and women who serve our communities as public defenders.

ThomasLB said...

People have an insanely high opinion of the police, and assume that if the police made an arrest then the suspect must be guilty.

It's hard enough getting people to spend money on poor people. Getting them to spend money on poor people accused of a crime is darn near impossible.

Carol said...

Well, that article is sobering!

We need an overhaul.

thailandchani said...

Wow... I could write a whole post on this. :)

The justice system is way out of balance in terms of race, class and economic status. Poor people and minorities are scuttled through the system with barely a thought while rich folks glide through with "dream teams".

There is no equality of justice. Not that I can see.


~*

afeatheradrift said...

As a "Defender" from Detroit, I can only echo your sentiments. I had a case load of over a hundred at many times, and that is simply too much. I often went to court with a list of better than 25 cases for the day. No way can you adequately and carefully do good service when you have but minutes per case. It's terrible, and has always been that way. The rich of course, get the best of experts and also get a fairer hearing generally from the bench. It's a little dirty secret that needs more light. Unfortunately, it is not a subject that the public cares much about.

an average patriot said...

I do not know him but by the nature of the job I too am proud of your nephew! We are the enemy being against Bush by default Public defenders are also the enemy defending against the perverted agenda of the right!

Border Explorer said...

I simply appreciate so much the commentary that all the readers have left on this post. I learned and agreed with and remembered and realized something from each response. I thank everyone who took the time to respond to this post.

DivaJood said...

For writing like this, I have given you an award. Come by my place to pick it up.

Mariamariacuchita said...

I sat on task forces for years with law enforcement, advocates and DAs. They are all under incredible schedules. One police officer told me he had 30 burglaries, 6 arsons, 12 assaults, 14 sexual assaults, and had to investigate all in one month. There is no wonder that justice is in short supply.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I have no idea what to say, considering how overwhelming this all is. I just wanted you to know I was here.

God bless your nephew.

susan said...

Yes indeed, God bless your nephew.

A psychologist friend of mine in Philadelphia recently left the penal system after nearly 20 years when they told him his case load would be doubled and would he please stop spending at least 15 minutes a week with his patients. He was also ordered to cease writing lengthy reports.

The whole system is a terrible mess that will take years to repair.

Liberality said...

in this country if you are poor than you don't have the rights that others who have money have. this country has always operated this way since it was founded. in the 60s and 70s this began to change and boy did the conservatives and police get mad about that! when Reagan got in office the tide began to turn once again against the poor. rights?-ha! don't make me laugh. justice?-oh I grow so weary and cynical at times but I think there is precious little justice in this country.
you have every reason to be proud of your nephew for being willing to do this hard work and for believing in justice for all.

Randal Graves said...

Money talks and those without never walk.

Border Explorer said...

These first-person reports in the comments from those of you who have been or have friends who are involved in this system are eye-opening.

Liberality and Randal--you two have nailed it. If you have money, you count in this world. If you don't, then you don't matter. You're invisible or--worse--you're in the way and need to be eliminated.

Utah Savage said...

Your nephew is my kind of hero. Yes to what Lib and Rahdal said, and Susan, and Av Pat. Part of the reason I leave home so seldom is the fear that something will happen and I will end up needing legal help.

Fran said...

This was a great thing for this attorney to do- make public the ethical problem of having so many cases, to not realistically be able to provide adequate representation.

Part of Obama's platform to make college affordable is giving back. New lawyers can help in this situation,in exchange for getting a tuition break.

This suggestion can be voiced @ the change.gov Obama site, soliciting suggestions & ideas.

Ingrid said...

you know what I think the problem is? Putting people in jail when they ought to go into rehab. Either the kind for addictions or for the kind to 'mend their ways' if it were. Of course, I do believe a lot comes from poverty so helping people with skills for when they get out
now Miami might be a whole other can a beans altogether as distributorcap mentions..so just one more thing for people of the various states to get behind and get the federal gov't out of the way. There's no way in dealing with crime if everyone gets brushed with big broad stroke.. crime and poverty are related. Addiction and crime are related. What is the term for the thing I've been trying to describe?? it escapes me..
anyhow..good luck to your nephew..I can imagine how disillusioning it must be..sigh

Ingrid

richie said...

thanks for all the positive energy. we do the best we can. and we are one of the best p.d. offices in the country. don't feel too bad for us, our job is thrilling, rewarding, and fun (very unusual when dealing with the law.) for those interested in the day to day musings of a miami p.d., check out my colleague
Scoplaw's blog:

http://www.scoplaw.blogs.com/

richie said...

thanks for all the positive energy. we do the best we can. and we are one of the best p.d. offices in the country. don't feel too bad for us, our job is thrilling, rewarding, and fun (very unusual when dealing with the law.) for those interested in the day to day musings of a miami p.d., check out my colleague
Scoplaw's blog:

http://www.scoplaw.blogs.com/

D.K. Raed said...

I don't think there is much justice for the poor ... unless they happen to be a high-profile case. I cannot imagine having to put myself into the hands of a well-meaning but overworked rushed P.D. who cannot possibly take the time to get to know the details of the case, the personalities involved, etc. They do a wonderful job with what they've been handed, but they are handed too much. And the poor client, usually having been previously beaten down by the system, does not hardly expect much of anything. Anyone who wants to be reminded of how much "class" there is in our supposedly "classless" country, should visit a prison. The vast majority of prisoners are from the lowest income rungs of our society.