As expected, my post yesterday on the money wedge between public defender and private attorneys has generated a response from Cousin Greenfield, who calls me on my bullshit of not noticing that there are, indeed, divergent interests to some extent between the private bar and public defenders. Scott, however, turns the table and gently points out that public defenders lack of concern for the actual eligibility of clients takes away from the ability of private lawyers to feed their families (which echos the comment left by “Bubba”).
The thing that disturbs private lawyers most, at least in New York City, is that defendants who can afford counsel are nonetheless given a free lawyer for the asking. There is no meaningful vetting process, and every defendant is handed a PD or 18b lawyer at arraignment by default.
Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?
Public defenders aren’t concerned about defendants who can afford a lawyer but elect to stick with the PD. I suspect they are flattered, though they should be angered. These defendants suck up their time, time which should rightfully belong to defendants for whom Gideon (the decision, not the blawger) was intended. They complain about being oppressively overworked, yet don’t turn anyone away, even if they drive up in a shiny Mercedes wearing 20 pounds of gold and diamonds around their neck.
To the private criminal defense lawyer, the defendant who can afford a lawyer is their domain. The PDs are taking away their next meal. Where’s the mutual love? Defend the poor and downtrodden all day long, but let the private lawyers make a living too. While PDs see themselves as just helping those in need, private lawyers see them as poaching on their turf.
While I suspect that Scott is engaging in hyperbole, I can see his point. However, I don’t necessarily agree with it. At least one hundred years ago (site very, very NSFW), I wrote about indigency standards and the authority of a court in CT to simply appoint a public defender even if the defendant has some resources available.
To be sure, there are extreme examples of defendants with liquid assets, who can (and routinely do) hire private counsel after they’ve become dissatisfied with their public defender. It’s happened to me and it irks me to no end. To that extent, I agree with Scott: don’t waste my time. Continue reading