Thursday, July 07, 2005

Great book referral (I haven't read the book yet, though)

This book, Courtroom 302, comes highly recommended by Los Angeles County Public Defender Al Menaster, as a very true to life tale of what goes on in a courtroom over the period of a year in the criminal justice system (or industry, as Al Menaster calls it).

I have not read the book, yet, but if Menaster's review of it is any indication of how good the book is, then I am sure I am going to find it fascinating. Here's some of what Menaster writes about this book, and how it relates to our jobs as public defenders:

Reading Bogira's discussion of suppression motions made me think about police perjury. We know that the police routinely perjure themselves when testifying in motions to suppress evidence and confessions. Yet how often do we win suppression motions, not based on some defect in the police version, but because the judge rules that the police officer lied? I have never won such a motion, and even if you have, have you won more than five? Ten? So what percentage of police perjury is being called for what it is? One one-hundredth of one percent? Yet you almost never hear about this topic, and judges simply won't find that the police are committing perjury, even though they know perfectly well that perjury is routine. Take the Rampart scandal. We now know for a fact that the police lied about hundreds of cases. How many of those cases, when they were going through the system, were dismissed by judges who found that the police were lying? Exactly none. What better proof could there be that the justice system is simply not about justice and has little or no chance of actually achieving anything resembling a just result in any case?

Bogira's book is well written. He tells the stories of the many cases going through this one courtroom, cases typical of cases all of us are handling. This is an important book for all of us to read and reflect on.

Here's my final insight. I humbly submit that there is only one person in the courtroom actually trying to make justice happen. You know that's not the judge, the prosecutor, the police officer, the victim, the court reporter, the bailiff, or the interpreter. If you are not trying to make justice happen, no one is. Our challenge is to be the only voice for justice in an industry gone mad, an industry trying to push through cases at top speed and secure high conviction and incarceration rates, and which can't be bothered with trivial stuff like actual justice. We must fill that role, because no one else will.

Since this review has not been released to the general public, I am not at liberty to reprint more of it right now (this is reprinted with Menaster's permission), but the review has left me very eager to read the book, and for insight into the industry that is really the blunt object of what democracy is all about (the right of government to make people disappear, either temporarily or permenantly), this seems like it should be required reading of all who care about what kind of a country we want to live in.


Bennett said...

There is a very good interview with Bogira about his observations on the justice system in that year he spent in the Cook County court. It was aired on Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio, with a stream at

Anonymous said...

Incredible book. Based upon what you wrote (and Al Menaster's recommendation) I bought the book on What an incredible book!! I feel like they are writing about my jurisdiction. Note that the judge that the author talks so much about, Judge Locallo, is the exception to the rule. The other judges, according to the author and everyone else, are far worse.

We need a book like this about California.

Anonymous said...

I read the book because of Menaster's review. I loved the "rally speech" in the review, but I didn't notice any PDs that particularly struck me as the "only voice for justice" that Menaster spoke of. But it did remind me that PDs could easily look like the ones in the book, and we have to do better than that.

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