[Update: A follow up post with additional thoughts here.]
I always thought we were brothers (and sisters). You, the criminal defense lawyer in private practice, and I, the public defender. Cousins of a sort. We had one common objective: acquittals defending the Constitutional rights of those unlucky enough to be sucked into the vortex that is the criminal justice system.
But now it seems that there’s this schism between us. This divide that I’d never noticed. Your annoying wife, if you will. The one who tolerates me, but doesn’t really like me. I’m the Democrat to her Republican. Commenter Bill Thompson explains:
Your observations are but the tip of the iceberg relating to the inherent conflicts between the private bar and public defenders. The “money” factor is the absolute wedge dividing otherwise natural allies. Apart from the scare tactics you reference is the over-riding division between the two regarding general policy considerations. PD’s here complain about the phenomenon of over-indictment, while private practitioners celebrate it as “the difference between driving a Chevy and a Cadillac”. PD’s speak of decriminalizing drug offenses while profit-minded attorneys rue the day. It’s these differences which typically land a lawyer interested in criminal defense in one camp versus the other. Of course, there’s also the practical considerations of running or not running an office. Of paying or not paying support staff. Of looking for or not needing to look for clients. Of contributing or not to judicial candidates. Under the best of circumstances, the alliance between PD’s and private practitioners of criminal defense will always be tenuous at best. Loyalties are unfortuately compromised by the Almighty Dollar…
I’d imagine that every most some private attorneys do have a momentary selfish thought when talks of decriminalization make the rounds. After all, drug offenses would make up the bread and butter of the average attorney’s practice. Don’t we all know those criminal defense lawyers, who will take any case, for any price? Of course we do.
I guess I’ve never considered the economic viewpoint of the private attorney, because I’ve never had to. So I’m doing it now. I know that the regular voices in the blawgosphere will certainly deny this, but they’re a small minority (statistically speaking). So what of the majority? Is there a wedge between us? Is it money?
Maybe Norm isn’t that far off base in his call for an universal public defender system, after all.
And because a post like this wouldn’t be right without some music, here are two videos, one for the older among you and one for the younger, plus this bonus link.
If you were born after 1980, watch this (Mr. West uses some bad words, so if you don’t like that kind of language, don’t listen):