Wednesday, January 31, 2007

R.I.P. Molly Ivins

I was very sad to read today that Molly Ivins passed away. Growing up liberal in Texas, she was definitely a hero of mine. I got the chance to meet her during my first year of law school at a public interest law group fundraiser. She signed my copy of one of her books I owned, "Give 'em hell! --Molly" I do my best every damn day, Molly. I really do.


I know it's been a long time since I last posted, but I'm literally buried right now. I haven't been reading what anyone else has been posting either. I promise to get something up soon because I have some stories to tell.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quick Hits

I got slammed this afternoon, and don't have time for a long post, but there is a lot of interesting stuff in the news, law wise, so here is a list of stuff to check out:

*One of those terrorist-loving lawyers for the Gitmo detainees publishes an open letter to Cully Stimson in Salon and it is awesome.

*The dedicated lawyers at the Cook County Public Defender's Office are fighting back against budget cuts that would mean a bunch of lawyers there losing their jobs, and their already high caseloads getting even higher.

*Bill O'Reilly, adamant defender of children against sex offenders, thinks Shawn Hornbeck didn't escape his abductor for over four years because it liked it since he didn't have to go to school.

*The judge and the DA apologized to James Waller yesterday in court when his DNA exoneration was made official, but I think it would be nice if someone tracked down the jurors who didn't do their job and got some apologies from them. They convicted the guy in 46 minutes based on an obviously bad voice identification and in the face of an alibi. Step up and take some responsibility for violating your oath and sending an innocent man to the pen for 30 years, jurors! Maybe future jurors will learn a lesson.

*I told the prosecutor yesterday that my case set for trial on Tuesday should be dismissed because he didn't have the evidence to prove it, and this morning, he dismissed it. Wow. That's pretty cool.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Will New Dallas DA Get to the Bottom of Wrongful Convictions?

Wretched of the Earth announces yet another DNA exoneration in Dallas County, bringing the total since 2001 to 12. James Waller was convicted based on the identification of the victim, which, if the article about the case is correct, sounds incredibly shaky, and the type of identification that should have been dismissed by a jury as completely unreliable. Newly sworn-in Dallas DA Craig Watkins has promised not to block requests for DNA testing in future cases (he already agreed to DNA testing in another case, which helped lead to a speedy exoneration) like the previous DA had, and to look into the root causes of the wrongful convictions. I hope he follows through on that promise. It would be great if they did some training with police agencies on proper identification procedures, and backed up that training by not using IDs in court that were the result of improper procedures. That second part may be asking too much, but I'm interested in seeing where he goes with this. In the meantime, his willingness to agree to DNA testing in appropriate cases is a nice change in policy, and one that any DA truly interested in doing justice, and not just in protecting their convictions, would embrace.

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A Juvenile Case with a Little of Everything

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article today about a juvenile case in Long Beach with a little of everything--race, violence, questionable eyewitness identifications, and, just like in juvenile cases in most states, no jury.

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Pentagon Official Calls for Boycott of Law Firms Representing Gitmo Detainees

Update: So, the guy apologized, saying, in part, "Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not." Okay, I'm happy he apologized, and that he reaffirmed the bedrock principle that even the most unpopular need and deserve representation. But, I really hate it when someone only sort of apologizes for what he said by saying that he regrets that what he said left some sort of unintended impression. Why doesn't he just apologize for saying it, period? The comments "left the impression that [you] question the integrity" of the detainee lawyers because you questioned the integrity of the detainee lawyers. Why don't you just apologize for questioning their integrity instead of apologizing for leaving the impression that you question their integrity? That would be nice.
Original post:

Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, thinks all the law firms doing pro bono work to represent the detainees at Guantanamo should be blackballed. He wants all their names published and their clients to ditch them. Apparently, it's not enough for Mr. Stimson that they be held indefinitely without charge, tortured, denied the writ of habeas corpus, and tried on charges they're not allowed to be told about, with evidence they're not permitted to see or hear, and without being permitted to call witnesses in their own defense. Nope, he needs to slander their attorneys, who are spending hundreds of hours for no compensation (despite Mr. Stimson's veiled assertion that they were being compensated by shadowy terrorist financial supporters), becaue as attorneys, we are ethically obligated to ensure that everyone, no matter how shameful and despicable they are accused of being, are given the due process guaranteed by our constitution. I'm not sure what more I would expect from the person who is apparently in charge of detainee affairs. Common sense and decency and respect for the rule of law don't seem to be running high in those parts these days.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn't in the office yesterday, so I'm one day late to this. But, yesterday was MLK Day, and I didn't want to let it pass without a mention here. The title of this blog, of course, is taken from Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he asserted so powerfully that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. King was responsible for powerful change for millions of people on a dramatic scale, and certainly most of us will never come close to having such an impact. But, one thing the civil rights movement was a great example of was the power of ordinary people in their own individual way to rectify injustice. I know I am not alone among public defenders in being inspired to do the work I do because of a desire to do just that.

Greg at Public Defender Stuff had the honor of hosting the MLK edition of Blawg Review this week, and it is an excellent place to check out posts around the blogosphere in honor of MLK.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Massive Link Update

I added a bunch of new PD blog links, thanks to the handy PD Blog Guide at Public Defender Stuff. Check 'em out!

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Why Don't Parents Hire Lawyers for Their Kids?

There has been a lot of talk around the public defender blogosphere regarding a recent study on the effectiveness of public defenders versus private defense attorneys, as outlined in this Op/Ed piece in the New York Times. Much of the discussion has focused on the methodology of the study and whether it is an accurate depiction of the private attorney/public defender issue. But I am much more interested in the conclusion of the opinion piece--that marginally indigent defendants (those who qualify as indigent, but who could manage, with sacrifice and assistance from family and friends, to hire a good, private attorney) who are guilty tend to rely on public defenders, while the marginally indigent innocent tend to hire private counsel.

As I was thinking about this conclusion, it struck me that, in the county where I practice, virtually none of the juveniles accused of crimes are represented by hired counsel. As juveniles, they are all presumed indigent, and entitled to be represented by my office. But, just like an adult defendant, they have the right to hire private counsel if they choose. As children, it's highly unlikely they'd be capable of retaining an attorney on their own, so if private counsel is employed, it is because their parents have chosen to pay the money to do so.

Many of my clients come from poor families, those whom I would classify as truly indigent, and not marginally indigent. But, there are quite a few that come from middle class families as well. Certainly, many of these parents could marshal the resources to hire a private attorney. And yet, except on very rare occasions, they choose not to. Why? Is it because these parents don't care about their children's cases as much as they would care about their own? That they don't think whatever consequences their child might receive from the juvenile system are severe enough to merit laying out the money for an attorney? That they don't believe in their children's innocence? Or are they simply more willing to trust a public defender to do the best job that can be done than they would be if it were themselves standing accused?

I am not a parent. But I often hear parents say that they would sacrifice their lives for their children--that they would do anything to protect their children, no matter the personal consequence. But when it comes to their children being threatened with sanctions in the criminal justice system, that doesn't seem to be the case. At least not in the county where I practice. Or, maybe it says something about the children that end up in the juvenile justice system. Is it possible that a good percentage of the kids who end up in the juvenile system have parents who aren't so self-sacrificing? That they aren't the parents who would do anything to protect their children, no matter the personal consequence?

I think I do a very good job for my clients. And I like to believe that I get them just as good results as they would get if they hired a private attorney. But, if the prevailing viewpoint in society is that public defenders don't do as good a job as hired attorneys, why do so many parents entrust their children to me, instead of doing whatever it takes to pay a private lawyer to stand up for the rights of their children?

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Fox News Analysts Have a Thirst for Justice . . . For Rich, White Defendants

I don't know if I've had one single post about the Duke rape case. That doesn't mean I haven't been following the case--it's pretty hard to ignore. In fact, I have been paying pretty close attention to the news coverage. I'm a criminal law junkie, and it is one of those stories that is hard to resist. But one thing about this case, or rather, about the news coverage of this case has really fascinated me. I can't recall ever seeing a rape case covered by the media with such vehement support for the defendants, and such skepticism and hostility towards the prosecutor and the accuser. It certainly didn't start out that way. As many criminal cases often do, when the police and the prosecutor control the information, all the initial reports looked really bad. If you believe the ethics police in the North Carolina bar, that was because the DA was violating all sorts of ethical rules about pre-trial statements to the media. At any rate, as more of the actual evidence--physical evidence, witness statements, medical evidence, lineup procedure, etc.--started coming out through court filings, the case began to take a different turn. At this point, it seems that 90% of the legal experts commenting on the case think it is a dog, that it should be dismissed, and many would also add that the DA has screwed it up so royally that he should quit.

But, since virtually the beginning, most of the folks at Fox News--normally big on law and order--have been almost uniformly skeptical of the accuser and the prosecution, and supportive of the defendants. Sean Hannity, in particular, has been an outspoken advocate for the accused and equally outspoken in his outrage at the prosecutor and the accuser. She is a slut, a drunk, a liar. The prosecutor is a disgrace, a violator of civil rights, and needs to be thrown out of office, disbarred, if not prosecuted himself.

Honestly, I think this case is a disgrace. I think it would be a travesty to take the case to trial. The identification procedures used were atrocious, the accuser's account of events has changed as often as she has spoken about it, and the physical evidence is either virtually nonexistent or exculpatory. Heck, one of the accused has about as airtight an alibi as you can have without actually being locked up in jail at the time of the "crime." So, yeah, I think the case should be thrown out. If the DA doesn't have the good sense to dismiss it, the judge needs to have the balls to toss it based on the prosecutorial misconduct, and impermissibly suggestive identification procedures.

As someone who rants and raves when people are wrongly accused, I should be thrilled that someone like Sean Hannity at Fox News is so outspoken in his indignation. But, here's my problem with Sean Hannity. When has he ever given a damn about a poor defendant, wrongfully accused or convicted? When has he called on the federal government to investigate a prosecutor for civil rights violations committed against someone who didn't go to a prestigious university or have a wealthy family? When he rails against the prosecutor for abusing his authority in this case just to get elected, does he ever consider what responsibility he and his Fox co-hort Bill O'Reilly have when they threaten the political futures of elected officials who refuse to pass draconian sex offender laws that, they must admit in light of the Duke case, sometimes end up being imposed on innocent people? I haven't seen any evidence of that. The title of my blog comes from the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I might suggest to Sean Hannity that, over this long holiday weekend, he reflect on that quote. And perhaps he might acknowledge that all across this country, the poor are subjected to injustices perpetrated by police officers and prosecutors not doing their job. And they don't have millions of dollars to fight back like the Duke players do. And that, perhaps, if he spent some time urging the people and politicos in this country to do something to prevent and to rectify those injustices, then the chances that rich, white boys from Duke will fall prey to those same injustices would be significantly less.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Inconvenient News

So, there's an article on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website today, entitled "Federal Way schools restrict Gore film," about how, in response to the complaint from a wingnut ignoramus parent who thinks, among other wacky ideas, that the earth is 14,000 years old, the schools will require special permission and a presentation of the "opposing viewpoint" if a teacher wants to show An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary featuring Al Gore's discussion of global warming. Apparently, all "controversial" issues are to be taught that way in Federal Way schools. I could spend time ranting about the idiocy of this whole issue, and how when 99.9% of the scientific community agrees on something, it's no longer "controversial" just because a bunch of greedy corporate honchos and their ignorant mouthpieces won't acknowledge it, but I'd rather point out how funny it was to me that, right below that article on the website, was this one:

Global warming to cost us
Global warming will cost Washington state and its residents millions of dollars in higher prices and remedial measures, a new study says.

I think someone over there at the Post-Intelligencer was being funny. And I heartily approve.

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Mommy and Daddy Issues

Some parents really suck. First, let me just say that my clients come from all sorts of families--nuclear, step, single-parent, grandparent, foster, adopted, and group homes. Some of the parents I meet are truly wonderful. And, in some cases, no matter what the parents do, the children can't seem to get it together. But, then there are the ones where the kids are good kids, but their parents just plain suck. They're drunks or drug addicts. They're always moving because they can't hold a job long enough to pay the rent anywhere. They beat them or molest them or let their live-in boyfriend do it. They don't ever have any food in the house or they let their junkie friends steal their kids' stuff. I've had cases where the police report describes my client as being his parents' "designated driver;" where the parents kicked the kid out of the home with no place to live, then had him charged with burglary when he broke into the house when they were away so we could have a place to sleep; where the mother told the police officer that her son was at fault for his father beating him because the kid intentionally got his dad drunk; where the mom left the state for a week-long trip to see an old boyfriend, and ended up having such a fun time that she didn't come back for two months, leaving her teenage kid home alone the whole time. And the worst part is that there is almost nothing I can do about it. I can talk to the kid about how to stay safe. I can call CPS, and report it myself. I can tell his probation officer to do something about it. But, in the end, I have virtually no power. I can't get the kids better parents. And so many of these kids, I'm telling you, I truly believe would never set foot in juvenile court if they had even one halfway decent parent. Just someone who loves them unconditionally, and teaches them about responsibility and empathy and consequences, and what it means to be a decent human being. What they don't need is a prosecutor talking about how they're "on the wrong track," and a judge telling them it's time to "get with it," and a lawyer telling them that she's doing everything she can when she knows it's not nearly enough.

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Tip for the Prosecutor

Offering my client a deal that involves pleading as charged (to a felony, no less), and a sentence recommendation that is pretty much exactly what the judge would sentence him to if he went to trial and were convicted is not really a plea bargain offer.

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There's Not Enough Crime in This Town

You know you're a juvenile public defender when the local news story that makes you choke on your coffee is about the police busting up a party full of drinking teenagers. According to the paper, twenty kids were cited for minor in possession! Twenty! Apparently, the police were called by neighbors who believed that the kids were up to no good. The cops knocked on the door, and were told they weren't being let in without a warrant (good on you, kids!). So, unbelievably, the police went and got a warrant in the middle of the night, and came back and busted up the party, writing out citations right and left! Now, you understand the title of this post. There is not enough crime in this town if the police have the time to get a search warrant to bust up a teenage party! Don't get me wrong. I'm not wishing for more crime here. I just, well, I just wish the cops had more important things to do. Of course, there aren't many cases here in juvenile where I have the opportunity for a full-fledged Franks hearing, so maybe I shouldn't be complaining.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New York Governor Chooses Not to Gouge Prisoners' Families on Phone Calls

Skelly catches a news report out of New York announcing that the newly sworn-in Governor has reversed a policy of imposing a high surcharge (with a hefty kickback to the state) on collect calls inmates make to their families. I'm so used to newly elected politicians making things worse for prison inmates, I hardly know what to make of this news. Nicely done, Governor. Nicely done.

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Public Defending in New Orleans Still Rough Going

Being a public defender in New Orleans since Katrina has been, to put it mildly, hell. There are nowhere close to enough attorneys to represent all their clients. And I don't mean not enough to meet ABA guidelines. No public defender office I know of has that. They are really struggling. And that is just the beginning. There are a people locked up who are completely lost in the system, people are waiting months and months in jail for a trial on misdemeanor charges, without ever seeing a lawyer. It is a disaster. Some judges have threatened to throw out large numbers of cases of people sitting in jail because there is no one to represent them. And yet, there are many diligent public defenders doing what they can to bring some sense of fair representation to the indigent. So, it doesn't help matters when a judge gets so pissed off that no public defender is in his courtroom when he's ready to go that he marches over to the PD's office, drags the trial chief to his courtroom, finds him in contempt, and sentences him to 36 days in jail. Not surprisingly, an appeals court stepped in after a few hours and stayed the order. But, seriously, I can completely understand that the judge's frustration might be boiling over, but throwing one of the people who is actually trying to do something about it in jail doesn't help matters. I doubt that makes more people want to come work there. "Come be a public defender in New Orleans, where your caseload is so overwhelming that you get thrown in jail for not being in four places at once!"

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Behind the Scenes of the Supreme Court

If you have any interest at all in the behind the scenes workings of the Supreme Court, then this 3-part series (first part published today) in Slate based on the late Justice William Brennan's papers, is a must read. Once I've read all three parts, I hope to formulate some thoughts and commentary for posting.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Time for Some Lawmakin'

So, the legislature is back in session, and it's time for some new laws. Back when I started this blog, the Texas legislature was in session, considering all sorts of weird and wacky bills, (and some good ones, too, I'll admit), and it gave me a lot to blog about. So, I figured it's time to start looking into what is being proposed here in my new state, and also to talk about changes I'd like to see.

I'll start with this: They need to change the values that are required for thefts and malicious mischiefs (vandalism) to qualify as felonies. Right now, theft or property damage of over $250 constitutes a felony. I'm not sure the last time the legislature addressed these values, but I'm told it's been a loooooong time--in other words, the legislature made a $250 theft a felony back when $250 was worth way more than it is now. Back in Texas, it took $1500 for theft or mischief to be a felony, and I think that is much more appropriate. Felonies are supposed to be the more serious crimes, and throwing a bunch of relatively minor thefts and mischiefs into the felony pot is a waste of the resources that should be devoted to more serious offenses. It also concerns me how many clients I have who have cases worth trying, but who are so concerned about a felony conviction, that they are willing to take a plea bargain to a misdemeanor charge, even while saying that they are innocent.

So, how about joining the 21st century on this one, legislature? I think a value of $1500 is about right, but I'd settle for $1000.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

The winners of the 2006 Public Defender Blogger Awards--the "Rodneys"--have been announced, and I'm honored to be among them. I won Best Title of a Blog That Reflects Something About the Job, and was a runner-up in the categories Public Defender Blogger You'd Like to Be When You Grow Up, Best Blog by a Female Public Defender, and Best Blog That Deals with Actual Law Stuff. Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up, and thank you to everyone who voted for me. I am particularly honored to be a runner-up to Skelly in the Public Defender Blogger You'd Like to Be When You Grow Up category. I still feel very much like a kid in this public defender business, and it is heartwarming to know that at least a few people out there draw some inspiration from my rants here at Injustice Anywhere. And, finally, a big thanks to Public Defender Stuff for creating and hosting these awards to recognize the many public defenders out here in the blogosphere.


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'm Having a Constitutional Crisis About My Low Salary, Too

Pardon my French, but Chief Justice Roberts (pictured at left) really pissed me off with his recent annual report on the federal judiciary. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick explains here, Roberts spent pretty much the whole report on judicial pay, concluding that the lack of a pay raise in a number of years threatened a constitutional crisis. According to Roberts, a lot of these federal judges could make a lot more than the $165,000-175,000 per year they make as judges if they were law school deans or partners at big civil firms. Well, tough cookies. It's called public service, Mr. Chief Justice. Many of us do it for much, much less than federal judges do. And we don't have the job security of life tenure. Or people calling us "Your Honor" all the time. Suck it up.

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I Need Some Help

Anybody have any advice on how to tell a kid that her mom doesn't want her anymore? Ever again? Because I need some help here.

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New PD Blogs

Reading through the nominees for the PD Blogger Awards, I realized that there are a lot of new PD blogs I need to add links for. I'll be getting on that soon. In the meantime, I'd like to welcome a new blogger from the juvenile world, A Blues Like Down Home, whose blog description is as follows:

The life and times of a Non-Profit Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney. "At the end of the day, after it's all finished and over, and in spite of it all... they're still just kids."

Aint that the truth.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Reminder About Freedom and This Job

Sometimes, when I'm in the middle of all the muckety muck of this job, I miss important things. It's the arraignment calendar, and I'm entering pleas of not guilty, asking for adjustments to conditions of release, setting trial dates, blah blah blah. Then, not unlike what happens at other arraignment calendars, I convince the judge to release a client on personal recognizance who had previously been ordered held on bail. That feels good, and then on to the next case. But then, I'm back in my office, and I'm sorting through the morning files, and I move the kid's file from my "in custody" file drawer to my "out of custody" file drawer, and it finally hits me. I got that kid out of jail (okay, detention, but it's the same difference). He was locked up. And because of what I said and did, he's now free. It's a normal, everyday part of this job, but that doesn't make it any less important or valuable to that individual person. It's good to stop and remind myself of that every once and a while.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

R.I.P. CrimLaw

Somehow, I missed this news over the holidays. Ken Lammers at CrimLaw has decided to shut down his blog. CrimLaw was one of my blogging role models, and one of the first to welcome me to the blogosphere, and to link to me. It will be greatly missed.


The State . . .

You know what has really started to annoy me? When the prosecutor repeatedly refers to herself in the third person as "The State." "The State is very concerned about the respondent's behavior since he has been released from detention." "The State believes the respondent needs to be placed on twelve months probation to ensure that he gets the help he needs." Or, my recent personal favorite, "The State will be on vacation that week, and so is unavailable for trial." Really? The whole State is on vacation that week? Does that mean I don't have to work either? Cool.

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This is the United States of America

The New York Times had a long article in the Sunday paper about the legal goings on down at Guantanamo Bay. Short summary: it sucks. To say that the proceedings lack any sense of due process is a huge understatement.

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Top 10 Civil Liberties Violations of 2006

In the spirit of all those year-end top 10 lists (I know it's 2007, already--I was busy!), Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, my favorite legal commentator, published her top 10 list of the worst civil liberties violations of the year. Sadly, I don't have much hope that the list will be any shorter at the end of 2007.

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Switching Sides

Skelly picks up a discussion that grew out of a law student discussion about getting a public defender internship. In the discussion, one poster said the following:

The head of the Colorado PD's office actually told us at an informational meeting that they view working for the DA as a huge black mark. While he didn't say it would be an automatic disqualification, he did state that there was no PD he knew that could even consider being a prosecutor.

That's just nuts. In my old office in Texas, we had a number of former prosecutors in our office. For two years, I interviewed law students from every law school in the state at the UT Public Interest Law Conference for internships in our office. Trust me when I say that having volunteered or worked at a prosecutor's office was NOT a black mark. It was a plus. Anything that illustrated an interest in criminal law was a plus. The fact is that public defender jobs are not easy to get, especially right out of law school. It is much more feasible to get a prosecutor's job coming straight out of law school--at least it was in Texas, where very few counties even have public defender offices. Also, one of the best, if not THE best way to get criminal trial experience right out of the gate is to go work for a prosecutor's office. That kind of experience, even if it's on the side of the prosecution, is incredibly valuable to a public defender. In my experience as a public defender, I have known plenty of PDs who could never imagine being a prosecutor. Personally, I tend to fall on that side of things, although it's not something I would ever completely rule out. But, the idea that working for a prosecutor should disqualify you from being a public defender is simply ludicrous. A good lawyer is a good lawyer. And if that good lawyer can bring the passion and professionalism to representing the indigent accused that she brought to representing the state, then the indigent accused are better off. That's the way I see it.

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