The rantings of a Public Defender constantly fighting against society's pervasive Police Industrial Complex. Enjoy the unique perspective of one whose life's work is to fight the system through the system.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

LA Area DA seeks to elevate DAs, denigrate defense lawyers - by initiative

This is via the Los Angeles Metropolitan News (a legal newspaper), the head of the LA District Attorney's Association, Steve Ipsen, has proposed one of the most pernicious, insidious and unconstitutional state initiatives that I can ever remember seeing. Evidently, Ipsen wants to prohibit a whole class of people from donating money to the campaigns of elected district and city attorneys. Think about that, a whole class of elected official cannot raise money from a whole class of individuals: lawyers who have even one criminal case in that jurisdiction.

You want to talk about an unconstitutional, and truly disgusting idea, this is it. The theory Ipsen would say is that defense lawyers will donate money to the candidate who would advance their agenda the most, to the detriment of the rest of society.

Well, let's think of this. This would assume that the only intention and desire that criminal defense lawyers have is the unprincipled desire to get less time for their clients as a class of people. In other words, that we are in favor of crime and criminals, rather than a just adjudication of the laws on the books, or a recalibrating of the laws in a manner that is more fair to all types of people. How about this - perhaps many people who go into defense work do so because they want to ensure that all accused get a fair shot, that they are not taken advantage of by the system. They want to make sure that all people get a fair shot, so as to ensure that innocent people do not regularly get victimized by the system. You see, what Ipsen really wants is to limit money coming from political positions that he personally disagrees with. He has faith in a police state that gives all power to police and prosecutors without any check on their authority.

Sure, he will couch his position in the idea that this only applies to defense lawyers who have the potential of actual bias - cases in this actual jurisdiction. But think about it - those are the people most interested in and knowledgeable that race. Why would a defense lawyer in Sonoma County care about the race for DA in Los Angeles, or vice versa? If a lawyer in Los Angeles believes strongly enough that the administration of justice in his county is proceeding in an unfair manner, he will donate money accordingly. And this is what you would expect from locals who regularly practice in that area. It's no surprise that every year around election time my friends and family ask me who they should support for Judicial elections -I work in the field, I am far more knowledgeable than they are, so they want to know my views. Ipsen wants to effectively silence that voice so that only his voice, or those aligned with him, can be heard. To call these views anti-democratic understates how extreme he is.

Ipsen appears to recognize the rank idiocy of his position, because he puts a fall-back position in his initiative - that if the prohibition is found unconstitutional (duh!), then any candidate that accepts money from defense lawyers must make a statement stating so in all public advertising by noting the candidate is “supported and funded by criminal defense attorneys and/or criminal defendants.” Those are the words from the actual initiative! As if there is no difference between criminal defense lawyers and criminal defendants (as there is no distinction in the wording). This lays bare Ipsen's view of the role of a defense lawyer in society - a criminal.

And what does that really mean? It is quite clear what it means. To Ipsen, someone who represents a defendant is morally and legally equivalent to the person he represents. Hundreds of years of legal tradition in western civilization, the basis of all of our laws and system of justice - down the drain according to Ipsen. If you represent someone accused of a crime (rightly or wrongly, it would seem), then you are as despicable as - not the person - but the act they are accused of committing. After all, there is no distinction between the person and the crime they are charged with, because to assert they did not do it, or that they aren't guilty of the actual charges is a meaningless and fruitless activity which equates you morally with the perpetrator, who, incidentally, must be guilty.

Here's a question Ipsen. If the fair administration of justice is so important here, how about preventing ANYONE from giving money to a race in which they have an interest. This, of course, would mean that prison guards, police, sheriffs, DAs, any anti-crime group, any victim's rights group, etc, couldn't give to any race involving not just a prosecutor, but governor as well, as they have just as much influence in the system of justice in which these parties are so intricately involved. Now we're talking. Don't go waiting too long for an answer to this. Unprincipled people like Ipsen will never countenance arguments that they are inconsistent in their views.

Of course, if you read more deeply, you see even more gems here. Of course, Ipsen has to name this initiative after some victim, because without that, it may actually be discussed on it's merits rather than on the emotional plane of "what, you want to re victimize this family, you evil twit?" And why, in this otherwise totalitarian anti-democratic power grab does Ipsen throw in this little tidbit - DAs must get more money and benefits. He wants to ensure that DAs get the same pay, benefits and retirement equivalent to that of law enforcement officers - which is extremely generous. He also seeks to separate the pay and benefits of DAs from Public Defenders, and ensure that only DAs get these new, generous benefits. I've blogged about this before, but I'll say it again: You want to see who faces danger in their work, don't look at DAs, look at PDs. We are the ones who face the daily slings and arrows of our client's lashing out at the system - we are the bearers of bad tidings, we have to sit next to them as their frustration boils over, and we are the ones they eventually hit, slash, or otherwise attack.

So, when you see this further "tough on crime" initiative hit the ballots (if it ever does hit it), remember what an evil anti-democratic force is behind it, and act accordingly. The only thing we can be thankful for is that Ipsen has decided not to run for DA in Los Angeles, because a person with his views running that place would be disastrous for 10 million people unfortunate enough to live in LA County and bearing the results of him going from crazed outsider throwing grenades at the system to actually running the place, and that would be really scary.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why are ex-Public Defenders so often bad judges

I always get excited when someone from my office makes it to the bench (someone good, that is - if the person's a total political tool, then it's not so exciting). It means that finally, someone with our perspective is sitting on the bench. So, I have to ask myself all of the time this question: Why do ex-PDs make such uniformly bad judges. I mean, there are good judges who were PDs (or private lawyers, for that matter), but so many of the best judges I know were either District Attorneys or worked in the federal system. And I don't know why.

I've heard the theories. One theory is that as a Public Defender, we've heard all of the bullshit that our clients put out and we no longer buy it. But, that would mean that only the most cynical Public Defenders make it to the bench (something that doesn't seem impossible, in light of the political process it takes to make it to the bench). But, it would seem that I would have noticed the cynicism of some of these people before they made it to the bench. Most of the time, I haven't seen it.

Another theory is that only the most politically adept PDs make it to the bench, so that when they get there they have thoroughly sold their soul to make it there, and they can't do what their conscience asks them to do when they hit that spot for fear of a backlash by the people that put them there. I guess that this is possible, but, again, I never noticed this personality trait in so many of the people that I knew beforehand who make it to the bench and completely disappoint when they hit that spot.

Another, along the same vein, is that as ex-PDs they are under a greater microscope looking for perceived pro-defense bias (something that will really get you bounced from the bench, in contrast to overt pro-prosecution bias, which will get you a sweet gig within the judging ranks, unless you go completely overboard and totally piss off every PD in the county, something that's hard to do). This holds more water, and sort of goes in line with the previous thought. By promising this independence from their prior profession to everyone under the sun, they at least feel as if they are being closely scrutinized for possible bias, and want to cover it up.

But, all of these theories work for perhaps some of my colleagues who've made it onto the bench. Do they explain all of them? Is there another reason I'm not considering? In general, I feel defense lawyers are better lawyers than most prosecutors (note the MOST, there are some prosecutors who are stellar lawyers, but the mean PD is better than the mean DA, as far as I've seen). They have spent their lives bucking the system, not playing along to get along, not following strict hierarchical rules that DAs have to follow, thinking independently. Why is it that once these people hit the bench, they do so much worse than these DAs who usually can't hold a candle to them as lawyers?

And with that post, I completely give up the chance to ever become a judge (unless people realize that maybe I'll be just as "bad" as all of those other ex-PDs that have been put on the bench, and they'll put me on as well).

Thoughts, anyone?