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Sympathy for the Lawyer ?
January 23, 2006 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Sympathy for a Lawyer ? His father sustains he should sell screwdrivers, he takes attention deficit disorder drugs, his ex probably keyed his Toyota Corolla and he takes pleasure in tormenting prosecutors while wondering if they like him. Not a reality tv show [Via Fark]
posted by elpapacito (48 comments total)

 
He hasn't heard of Gideon vs. Wainwright, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that ensured free legal representation to indigent.


one wonders why he failed the bar exam three times
posted by PenguinBukkake at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2006


Reason number one why we shouldn't have a death penalty.
posted by spicynuts at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2006


No, no sympathy for a lawyer.
posted by Rothko at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2006


"Why do you want to be a public defender?" he is asked.

"The State Attorney's Office wasn't hiring," he answers.


Ouch. Put that into your book for how not to respond to questions during a job interview.

PD is a tough job. The workload is almost always twice what any human can bear, so stuff goes undone. Yet the cause is noble as the defendants need an advocate as they negotiate their way through a legal system where the odds are stacked against them. Most are guilty and the only issue is what is the appropriate penalty for their misdeed. Negotiating skills are probably more important than trial skills, but the threat of a potent trial probably adds strength to their negotiations. I think a lot of the PDs fall into it like Charley, it is one of their last options, yet I still have a lot of respect for them and the good they do for society. For all that, society looks down on them, perceives them not as defenders of the downtrodden but shysters looking to allow criminals to escape justice. Go Charley.
posted by caddis at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2006


Charley inherits 186 cases, a whole stack of green folders filled with legal notations he hasn't yet learned to read.

I have sympathy for his clients.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:19 AM on January 23, 2006


My reaction to this really surprised me: Not only do I not feel sorry for him, I'd switch places with him if I could.
posted by alumshubby at 9:25 AM on January 23, 2006


He's only $17,000 in debt 2 years after law school? Yeah, no sympathy here.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:32 AM on January 23, 2006


alumshubby: Why?
posted by lodurr at 9:32 AM on January 23, 2006


PD is a tough job.

Which seems a good reason to have capable people doing it.
posted by biffa at 9:35 AM on January 23, 2006


No, no sympathy for a lawyer.

No, no sympathy for a fpp from fark.
posted by AspectRatio at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2006


biffa: Sure, but this narrative illustrates something interesting and valuable: That "capability" isn't a simple thing. In this case, Charley's desperation is a valuable asset.
posted by lodurr at 9:39 AM on January 23, 2006


Perhaps the distrubing part is, after the interview (poor), resume (poor), they hired him. Evidently he was better than the other applicants.

And, no, no sympathy..... He's got a place to live, a car, a "pretty" girlfriend, enough money to buy beer, a job that allows for promotion, and is now getting a free series of ads in the local paper....
posted by HuronBob at 9:40 AM on January 23, 2006


Charley doesn't remember much from law school

Ooh, now that is confidence-inspiring.
posted by mrbill at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2006


a free series of ads in the local paper

Though I'm not sure how a PD can benefit from publicity, unless he stops being a PD. It's not like PD clients decide not to get their own lawyer because they heard about a really great PD and they'd rather have him.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:43 AM on January 23, 2006


> He hasn't heard of Gideon vs. Wainwright, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that ensured free legal representation to indigent.

one wonders why he failed the bar exam three times
posted by PenguinBukkake at 11:04 AM CST on January 23


That wasn't on the bar exam! (But is something any PD should know).

But I agree that the loser here are the clients. PD is a crappy job, and they kind of need the bottom of the barrel to do it because it is so crappy. I will admit that there is a certain nobility in helping people as PD, but most lawyers help people. I wouldn't say people getting the help for free are any more appreciative or in need than the ones who pay for it; so I don't buy the frequent characterization that PD's are the attorneys who are ought for real justice--the old Clarence Darrow types. In reality, my experience is that public defenders are attorneys who couldn't get jobs elsewhere. Hopefully this story is exaggerated and this guy isn't too incompetent. His clients face a poor legal prognosis in general; his incompetence doesn't need to magnify that.
posted by dios at 9:56 AM on January 23, 2006


"Though I'm not sure how a PD can benefit from publicity, unless he stops being a PD"

there ya have it! He made it pretty clear this was a last choice.
posted by HuronBob at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2006


The best part of the story is how the decision to work as a lawyer is a last resort. God bless this nation.
posted by Rothko at 10:05 AM on January 23, 2006


No, no sympathy for a fpp from fark.

Just because this was linked on fark yesterday doesn't change the fact that it's an incredible piece of in-depth journalism from one of the best newspapers in the country. Sheesh.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:12 AM on January 23, 2006


lodurr: E me if you're that curious -- otherwise, let's just say one man's feast is another's famine, or something like that. I don't want this thread to be about me.
posted by alumshubby at 10:15 AM on January 23, 2006


"His father sustains he should sell screwdrivers"?

what does that mean?
posted by mrnutty at 10:44 AM on January 23, 2006


Just because this was linked on fark yesterday doesn't change the fact that it's an incredible piece of in-depth journalism from one of the best newspapers in the country. Sheesh.

I don't think the fark affiliation is a big deal either, but nor am I convinced that this is necessarily an incredible piece of journalism. I think that the author's main points were pretty much common knowledge to most Americans: PD's are not the best lawyers, stupid people get crappy jobs, having a job is hard work, our court system is overloaded, etc. The only thing the reporter did was find an individual to represent these facts. And not surprisingly, the thought that American society could collapse at a moment's notice seems much more plausible when viewed at the individual level.
posted by wabashbdw at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2006


mrnutty: maybe his dad wants him to be a bartender. He'd probably make more money than he is as a PD.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2006


Considering his general apparent ineptitude I was blown away by this

"How do you feel about defending people you know are guilty?"

"It's not my job to prove they're innocent," he replies. "It's the state's job to prove they're guilty."


Two other things: did someone pay for his education? How the hell could he be in debt for only 17K, much of which it sounds like is credit card debt? And how, for 38K, can you expect to get anyone to do this job, nevermind a qualified and capable person?


Also:

"His father sustains he should sell screwdrivers"?

what does that mean?
posted by mrnutty at 12:44 PM CST on January 23 [!]


His father wanted him to apply for a job at Lowe's, the home improvement store.
posted by Jesse H Christ at 10:54 AM on January 23, 2006


mrnutty: maybe his dad wants him to be a bartender. He'd probably make more money than he is as a PD.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:50 PM CST on January 23 [!]


He most certainly would unless he sucked as hard at that as he seems to at everything else. "You want a cosmopolitan? Sorry, never studied that drink...Here's some gin or something...."
posted by Jesse H Christ at 10:56 AM on January 23, 2006


"His father sustains he should sell screwdrivers"?

It means the reporter is in love with his thesaurus.

Intresting article, but very breathless prose, which can be distracting.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 AM on January 23, 2006


"You want a cosmopolitan? Sorry, never studied that drink...Here's some gin or something...."

LOL.
posted by delmoi at 10:59 AM on January 23, 2006


Off topic alert!

I went to a bar and ordered a sidecar but couldn't remember what was in it (cognac, triple sec, lemon juice). The bartender looked it up, made it and said, "I looked it up but that didn't sound good so I made it with gin." WTF???

As a waiter, I don't go saying, yeh, you ordered the sea bass with ginger-scallion but I thought you'd like it with marinara.
posted by Jesse H Christ at 11:04 AM on January 23, 2006


It astounded me he'd never heard of Gideon. I mean, I'd heard of it by highschool, possibly earlier.
posted by orthogonality at 11:28 AM on January 23, 2006


Some months back, in another courtroom, a young female prosecutor struck the PDs as particularly snooty and unreasonable. The PDs decided to teach her a lesson. They swamped her with depositions, besieged her with motions, double-teamed her at trial. They kept up the barrage until, one day in open court, she dissolved in wretched sobs. Point made. And even if it wasn't, it felt good to do it.

Ouch. This was a nice piece.
posted by craniac at 11:32 AM on January 23, 2006


It astounded me he'd never heard of Gideon. I mean, I'd heard of it by highschool, possibly earlier.
posted by orthogonality at 1:28 PM CST on January 23

He may have heard of it, but had never read it. At least he saw the movie....
posted by Jesse H Christ at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2006


I am sure he knew the ruling. Whether he knew or could recall the case name strikes me as not that relevant.
posted by caddis at 11:36 AM on January 23, 2006


Point made. And even if it wasn't, it felt good to do it.

I wonder if they'll feel good when that prosecutor is no longer willing to cut plea deals with them.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:41 AM on January 23, 2006


That prosecutor doesn't have the time to take all her cases to trial. She has to cut deals, as do the PDs.
posted by caddis at 11:46 AM on January 23, 2006


Not commending what the PD did, but this look at inside the system is fascinating. So muc extra-legal stuff going on.
posted by craniac at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2006


caddis: yep sometimes true, but should that remain an acceptable practice ? Prosecutor and PD could just meet before, find an agreement and produce more "justice" if one measures application of law with number of cases PD/ Prosecutor process in a given time.
posted by elpapacito at 12:09 PM on January 23, 2006


Rothko: The best part of the story is how the decision to work as a lawyer is a last resort. God bless this nation.
Not for nothing, Rothko, but sometimes I get the feeling you don't even read the articles....
posted by lodurr at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2006


I enjoyed the read in a warts and all kind of way. Thanks for the post, regardless of its heritage.
posted by Sparx at 12:50 PM on January 23, 2006


I am not sure what you are getting al elpapacito. They have to plead most of the cases because the case load is crushing. The judges also don't have time to hear all the trials. Thus, most cases are plea bargained or some other form of settlement. Usually the defendant are caught red handed. Guilt or innocence is not an issue. The only issue is the proper punishment and which crime will go on the record, both of which are negotiated between the PD and DA. The judge, in most states, merely rubber stamps the deal. Society is not interested in paying for a long drawn out trial for each of these crimes. It puts a lot of power in the hands of the DAs and it isn't always fair. Nevertheless, justice is usually well served and most cases are handled with efficiency.
posted by caddis at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2006


Not for nothing, Rothko, but sometimes I get the feeling you don't even read the articles....

Why? The piece makes it clear he's taking the position because he can't or doesn't want to do anything else. Did you read the article?
posted by Rothko at 1:47 PM on January 23, 2006


I guess a tiny bit of the precision in language that you'd demand from others is too much to ask.

Rothko, above: ".... the decision to work as a lawyer is a last resort."

Rothko, below: "... he's taking the position because he can't or doesn't want to do anything else. Did you read the article?"

[emph added]

I will leave to people who can parse English to note the difference in meaning. (As a hint, one might want to look up the definitions of the words "general" and "specific.")

Obviously you've got a hard on for that toughest of targets, the American Lawyer. Good luck, there; I know how hard it can be to get laughs by taking pot-shots at lawyers.

But you might want to remember that a bunch of people on this thread, self included, have actually read the article, and know that there were other options -- that Charley had decided not to look for any other job as an attorney if he didn't get this one. I guess that seems like a fine distinction to you; maybe I should just cut you some slack, shrug, and say, "Hey, Rothko gets to use sloppy language from now on, we won't call him on anything anymore."
posted by lodurr at 1:58 PM on January 23, 2006


Why? The piece makes it clear he's taking the position because he can't or doesn't want to do anything else. Did you read the article?

It says that at the begining. The general gist of the article is that as he's gained experience at the job, he's come to care more and more about doing the right thing for his clients, even when it makes things more difficult for himself.
posted by unreason at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2006


I guess that seems like a fine distinction to you; maybe I should just cut you some slack, shrug, and say, "Hey, Rothko gets to use sloppy language from now on, we won't call him on anything anymore."

*sigh*

Whatever pleases you.
posted by Rothko at 2:23 PM on January 23, 2006


I think Charley is spending too much money on his shrink.
posted by sour cream at 2:45 PM on January 23, 2006


Great piece of reporting. Sympathy isn't exactly the right word here; the man doesn't seem like he was cut out to be a lawyer in the first place -- he was probably attracted by the fancy suits and cars rather than the work. But it does seem that by the end of the article he was beginning to find an identity and at being a PD at least gave him a purpose.

I agree with dios that PDs may not generally be great lawyers, although in some ways that's not what they're there for -- to briefly seem to echo Ed Meese, who said "most suspects are guilty", a lot of the people they defend are going to jail anyway. Their job isn't for the (hopefully rare) case where an innocent man is being railroaded, but to provide representation protecting the rights of all of the accused, so that railroading the innocent is not a temptation. They're there to keep the system honest.
posted by dhartung at 2:53 PM on January 23, 2006


I love his tactics. Raise a fuss and take minor cases to court so they don't have time and resources to deal with the bigger issues and have to settle those.

For those who don't like his tactics, I ask one question, if YOU were on trial wether for a crime that you did, or didn't commit, Would you want a lawyer who fought all the way for you or one who worried about wether he could get a good deal for his guy tomorrow if he doesn't anger the DA too much?
posted by Megafly at 4:22 PM on January 23, 2006


Megafly, I'd want one who angers the DA so much by winning huge at trial that the DA is scared not to give good deals.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:27 PM on January 23, 2006


Chapman thinks Charley's courtroom approach is shortsighted and self-sabotaging. Chapman tries hard not to irritate what he calls "my state attorney people." He thinks being nice gets him better deals.

Plus, he figures he'll be in private practice soon and may be working with some of them. "I'm looking ahead," Chapman says. "If you ask any state attorney over there about their favorite public defender, I bet they'd say me."


My question is, if you have been convicted of a crime in this particular court and your PD was Chapman... could you use this article to get your verdict thrown out?
posted by illovich at 5:47 AM on January 24, 2006


I think that the author's main points were pretty much common knowledge to most Americans

i think most americans couldn't quantify these points with salaries, case load numbers, etc. this article is a fine piece of reporting, however much anyone objects to the prose. if this were as common knowledge to most americans as gideon v wainwright is to mefites, we'd have laws to insure pds are paid as much as prosecutors and have no heavier case loads than prosecutors.

and charlie gets my sympathy, or rather, my admiration. he got tired of being a loser and now he's a fighter. he maxed out his card just to fit into a workplace where the appearance of attorneys can keep a defendent out of jail or put a defendent in jail. he submits to a shrink so he can get proper medication. he got through a $200K education only $17K in debt. i don't begrduge him because the state decided to give him a job. if anything he taking his opportunity to turn into a fine american. go charley. and god bless this nation, indeed. we'll need every blessing we can get.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:12 AM on January 24, 2006


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