Sunday, July 06, 2008

What is going on here?

Thank you for the introduction, PDDude. I have always been a fan of this site. I could criticize you for not posting more, but I know what it is like to be working as a public defender. For those who don't, let me tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a PD.

First, to be a PD you have to kind of fall into it. The vast majority of PDs that I know in this day and age in California were not necessarily raised as "liberals" who like helping the "underprivileged," code in my book for minorities. That is something that happened in the sixties and the seventies. Some of those PDs are still around, even in my office. But not many.

No, where I am from the majority of PDs fell into criminal defense because they wanted a job and the PD hired. We have a number of people who wanted to work for the DA but couldn't get hired. We have a number who were civil and got tired of it and came to the PD. As I said, most just sort of fall into it.

The legal life of a PD, at least in San Bernardino, is a hard one. The judges hate the vast majority of us, primarily because we defend those the judges hate. Also, the vast majority of judges are former prosecutors. Thus, the judges here don't like criminal defendants, and don't like us. PDs generally work hard and get little respect from the judges. My personal opinion of most of the judges in SB (but not all - there are, in fact, some very good judges in SB, but damned few) is that they are examples of some of the least qualified individuals to take on the awesome responsibility of, you know, judging. Many lack the political will to do what is right, the temperament to be fair and just, and the legal knowledge to be effective judges. But it isn't all their fault - the SB electorate is VERY conservative, and in some ways the judges reflect the axiom: "you get exactly the type of politician you vote for." My county votes for 'tough on crime,' and that is exactly what most of the judges deliver: 'tough on crime.' Never mind the costs to society, or the cost to the reputation of the county, or the complete ineffectiveness of 'tough on crime,' that's what the voters want, that's what they get.

The DAs generally don't like us either. In my county we have a weird twist - DAs and PDs are in the same union (which is excellent for all involved), so there is some collaboration. And some of the DAs get along with some of the PDs. But for the most part, the mindset of most of the DAs are very different from the mindset of most of the PDs, and there is the contention. It is odd, but it seems that most DAs have live sheltered lives and grew up in upper middle class to wealthy homes, while many PDs came from less-fortunate circumstances. At the very least, most PDs have at least one big incident in their lives when society failed them when they most needed it, and they are disillusioned in those ion charge.

This gives a mindset that is, at times, shocking. Most DAs tend to view defendants as something less than human. Not all DAs of course - I have seen some DAs with a lot of compassion, but they are very few. But most DAs look at defendants and think something like: "this defendant is an animal, I would never do what he did, and I have to keep him away from society as long as possible." I can't read the minds of DAs, of course, but that is what their general actions tell me. "This guy is a thief (or whatever) and he must be punished. We do this to all thieves." A PD, at least a compassionate one, will generally ask: "Why did this guy steal (or whatever)? Would I do that in the same situation?" In fact, a good PD will think this way to help find a defense. But not the DA, at least not in SB.

Look, I have family matters to attend to. I want to get mys first post out and allow others to comment, criticize, and whatnot. I think that PDDude got himself into a rut in the first place because he tries very hard to make each blog post into perfection. I want to get some thoughts down now so that I can introduce myself, and hit a little bit at a time so that SOMETHING gets said. The position of PD, and what it means in our evolving democracy and our legal community are too important to be met with silence.

Dennis Wilkins
The Guest PD Blogger

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear from you, Dennis.
I look forward to your future posts.