Saturday, July 14, 2007

PDs Better than Court Appointed Lawyers?

There's a new study out which compared how defendants did in the federal system over a several year period when represented by federal public defenders and by court appointed (or "Panel") lawyers.

Now, no disrespect to any of my panel brethren here, but the study reached the conclusion that public defenders are better. I have always agreed with that.

A caveat - most panel lawyers are pretty good, and most PDs are pretty good. I just happen to think - where I practice (I can't comment on any other place) - PDs are better. This could obviously be totally different in different parts of California, or of the country.

Here where I work, PDs get paid well, so they tend to stay with the office for a long time without leaving to go private. For this reason, we have a lot of experienced lawyers to learn from. These are people that we can lean on, watch in trial, and talk to daily about our cases. Because we have a bigger office than any private lawyer can have, we always have many to learn from.

Any case that I have, chances are someone else in my office has done something similar and has motions on the subject, strategies for dealing with it, and probably more experience than the prosecutor doing the same case. Furthermore, in dealing the case, we know what these cases have gone for the in past, and have a stronger basis to get that kind of a deal when we go to settle the case in our situation. Knowledge and experience are power.

That being said, there are plenty of great panel lawyers out there. Interestingly, in my experience, most of the best of them came from either the DA or PDs office (more so from the PD's office - no apologies there), where they had the volume of cases and experience to deal with huge numbers of cases.

At a certain point, there is almost no substitute for experience. Obviously, raw talent makes a difference, but, just like in sports, raw talent alone can't do it for you. You ever wonder how professional baseball players can backhand a screaming ground ball and casually throw out a runner from 3rd base like it's nothing? With years of rote practice. This is how us Public Defenders can pick up a murder case, look it over, and have a pretty good idea how they are going to handle it and how it is going to turn out after just a few minutes of reading the file. Baseball players practice for hours a day, every day, to perfect every aspect of their game. PDs do the same thing, handling case after case, and listening to their co-workers talk about cases, until they know these cases backwards and forwards.

Defendants complain that us PDs are in bed with prosecutors because we work with them every day (the first part isn't true, the second part is), these close working relationships appear to make a positive difference according to the study. This is cited as one reason that PDs get better deals for their clients, and have a slightly lower conviction rate at trial.

All in all, it's nice to see study of how us PDs aren't those worthless dump trucks so typically depicted by our clients, but more importantly, in popular culture nationwide. We are good, effective and experienced criminal defense lawyers that any person should be confident in trusting their lives to.


cs-legal said...

That study compare PD's to private non-panel counsel? I think there maybe a difference...have you seen the shleprocks that stroll in from Bar Panel?

I will generally agree with you that there are some fine panel counsel. But all to often, these guys come in looking like shlubs and can be ineffective based on appearance and demeanor alone. True, you can find non-panel private counsel like that, but it seems to be down to an art form by panel attorneys.

Plus, comparing Federal PD's to state PD's is a little bit of apples to oranges. I think Federal PD's will generally be more effective and successful... if for nothing else that they have a much lighter case load and are usually better funded.

Anonymous said...

ugh. I hate you, cs-legal. In addition to coming across like a self-deceiving moron in your posts about the libby commutation, I think you spend a lot of time posting just to nitpick. I hope you don't include the hours you spend writing asinine posts towards your clients' billable hours.

cs-legal said...

Thanks anonymous, always appreciate an intelligent conversation.

AJG said...

The study didn't deal with just the bar panel but the local CJA panels in the districts. CJA panel attorneys have to have additional training, they are not taken from the district bar as a whole. Despite this additional criminal training/expertise, they were found to be less effective than public defenders.

So, anecdotal wardrobe information notwithstanding, PDs tended to have better results than CJA attorneys who were appointed. You may want to read up on the study information before posting an irrelevant diatribe on Bar Panel attorney attire in relation to their perceived effectiveness.

cs-legal said...


Perhaps my post came off not as intended. The first sentence was a legitimate question. I am not familiar with the study, have not read it, nor was I trying to undermine it. If you or someone else has a link to it, I would be interested in seeing it.

The observation I made was personal one (although shared with many of my colleagues) regarding a cross section of local bar panel attorneys here.

However, if you think that appearance is irrelevant in relation to effectiveness, then leave a defendant in his orange jump suit in front of the jury a few times and see what happens. Same goes for disheveled and unkempt counsel. Again, it was an observation of some bar panel attorneys appearance and demeanor. Not to say that it is the primary factor, nor the most crucial...just a factor.

Anonymous said...

hey cs legal, i think your observation of scrubby lawyers must of hit a personal note for "anonymous" above! probably one of those intellectual types that doesn't believe in combs or deodorant. anyhoo, I aint a lawyer or anything, just like the site and hope i never need a PD or anything like that.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your comment about an experienced PD picking up a file and knowing how it should be handled and the case outcome after a few hours: Is that a compliment to you and your government colleagues?

In the next paragraph, you make it clear that deal cutting is the essence of public defending. In that I agree with you. Public defenders, state or federal, can cut a deal with the best of them.

But not everyone is guilty and the truth does not always reveal itself in a documented file. If someone is innocent or wants to fight the charges, they are better off not getting a public defender, especially those who arrogantly can determine the approach to the case after merely reading the file.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dude, like Clarence Darrow had some kind of out-standing wardrobe and he was a true model....yeah that's what makes a great lawyer.....just like on TV right? What ever happened to the "warrior" lawyer....the Gerry Spence's and the Clarence Darrow's and the like......I guess the Federal system of take out deal or we will cram it .... or the Federal "snitch" system as it is also known is the way things should be. Master Federal all knowing public defender --- yeah right.

rudy said...

Question: What do United States Magistrate Judges, Federal Public Defenders, federal Court Appointed [panel] Lawyers, Clerk of Court, and United States Probation Officer all have in common?

Answer: United States District Judges hire them all.

I sued the Federal Public Defender and Assistant Federal Public Defender for “refusing” to represent me. Naturally, another officer of the court came to his or her rescue claiming immunity.

In legal pleadings, filed in the United States District Court to United States District Judges, I have said when a lawyer can no longer hack in his chosen occupation of chasing ambulances, repossessing, cars, houses, destroying businesses and marriages there are only three positions available to them in their chosen occupation. That is to become a State/Federal judge/prosecutor or public defenders. All are losers with judges being the worst of the worst lawyers.

Prove to me where a court appointed lawyer, a state, or federal public defender has ever won an “acquittal” in America in the history of the judicial business. Mistrials and hung juries do not count acquittals only. If you can, I will donate money to the Arkansas Bar Association.

State and Federal Public Defenders as well as Court Appointed Lawyer are nothing more than plea bargainers. They are known as public pretenders and I can prove my case.

Want proof? I’ve got it.