These are not qualifications to be a public defender

Which is the odd man out?

burk-flyerNow, who won the election for Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District?

Yep, it’s pro-death penalty, 7-year prosecutor Bo Burk, who, if you zoom in on the image, touts his membership in the NRA as a plus to be the champion of individual rights for the poor and disenfranchised.

But as if that wasn’t enough, he is also a fiscal conservative who will use all resources available to save taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps since he’s never represented a criminal defendant in his life, he might be confused as to where the government largesse in the criminal justice system comes from: it is from over-criminalization and vindictive prosecutions, excessive prison sentences and lengthy terms of probation.

It isn’t the job of a public defender to worry about how much money is being spent on defense. In fact, if anything, the reality is that indigent defense organizations are criminally underfunded and could use significantly greater numbers of lawyers and investigators to provide constitutionally adequate defenses.

Of course, none of this mentions the greater philosophical problem: the stewardship of individual rights and defenses of poor people left to a man who, just yesterday, was trying to put those very people in jail.

How exactly will that prosecutorial mindset so quickly convert to one of defending rights at all costs? How will he suddenly bring himself to the attitude required of criminal defense attorneys: that whether the client actually committed a crime is often irrelevant; what matters is whether the prosecution can prove it?

It would also seem that in a jurisdiction like his, there may be a significant number of people dealing with mental health and drug addiction issues – topics that prosecutors are usually skeptical of. Can he immediately shed that skepticism and see these defendants for what they are – people who are in trouble and need help?

Logic dictates that the defendants of the 25th Judicial District in Tennessee are in for some worse times. Reality dictates that Bo Burk will continue to get elected, despite his complete lack of qualifications for the job.


15 thoughts on “These are not qualifications to be a public defender

  1. nidefatt

    So, not wanting to believe it, I had to do a quick search on this kid. Just perusing his facebook page and the comments from his followers, such as “It will be God’s will that you be chosen” and “If only people could see how different the candidates are, like how Jones is against the death penalty and doesn’t think their are victims in statutory rape cases!” makes me think that if the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU are not already beginning to prep their filings, they need to be. This guy is going to destroy lives with abandon.

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  3. Appellate Squawk

    You’d be surprised how many people honestly think “public defender” means “defender of the public,” i.e., the prosecutor. Could be this Bo just hadn’t read the job description before running for office.

  4. Not quite an old curmudgeon

    Leaving aside his other obvious deficiencies and speaking more broadly, how does being fiscally conservative and a member of the NRA prevent one from being a zealous advocate for their client? For example, Massachusetts is hardly a hot bed or conservatism, yet we have the lowest paid public counsel in the country and getting funds for experts is an exercise in frugality that would make our Depression Era grandparents proud.

    I don’t want to hijack the thread or unleash the trolls, but I found it curious you listed these among his faults.

    1. Gideon Post author

      Because how much a defense costs shouldn’t be a concern for the defense attorney. It costs as much as it costs to zealously represent a man. Someone who announces they are “fiscally conservative” is highlighting that they are looking to cut costs and save money. Why is that the defense attorney’s job? If you’re that concerned about costs in the CJ system, be the prosecutor and stop prosecuting so many people.

      MA is awful, btw, in their treatment of public defenders. Doesn’t make it right.

      I don’t like the NRA, so to me that’s a negative. Plus you usually associate NRA with pro-state, gun-loving, anti-“criminal”, tough-on-crime loonies.

    2. Another Public Defender

      Yeah, no! Massachusetts has the highest amount of expenditures on public defenders per capita at $28.73 per capita with limits on the amount of workload each defender can carry. The lowest would be Mississippi at $5.06 per capita and many public defenders in the south are on food stamps to make ends meet because they often make less then 30k a year with 100s of thousands in debt. Also if you don’t know why invoking the NRA and “saving the community money” while excluding any mention of “zealous advocacy” is disturbing in this political climate then you really are lost. See

  5. leslieksmith

    Thanks for posting the article below. Races for Chief PD is so foreign where I live, and the article seems to indicate that there is actually interest in the race.

    Either way, the statement “I defend crime victims” demonstrates an inherent conflict of interest in my opinion. Of course he wouldn’t be doing both at the same time, but it was chilling to read that quote.

    I never understood people that switch sides to begin with. It’s not as though once one is a prosecutor they must always be so, but I have to say, but this is a very unsettling leap.

    And what would the clients think? Talk about distrust. I wouldn’t blame them at all.

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