For years I’ve seen this particular Public Defender work. He’s seems to know his craft, that’s clear enough, but what troubles me is that he carries out his ethical duties too loosely. I’ve heard a former client of his (now my client) complain about his work, but now I had an opportunity to form my own criticism.
The other day, I’m sitting in court waiting for my case to be called. This PD was assigned a custody client in LA County Jail blues who was cuffed to another defendant in the jury box; this is where defendants in custody are made to sit while they have their day’s moment with the judge.
All along, the defendant is engaged with the judge, paying close attention, but also obviously intimidated. Still, he responds to the judge’s questions loudly and clearly, sounding off like a soldier, “yes, Your Honor.” At one point, the judge asks a question, and either the defendant didn’t understand it or hear it well, so he starts gesturing toward his ear like he’s trying to understand but can’t. Rather than engage his obvious effort at inquiry, the judge – and more importantly the PD (his lawyer for crying out loud!) – just talk over the defendant’s efforts to understand. To me, it was a classic example of the powers-that-be ignoring their duties – to the system from the judge’s perspective and to the client from the PD’s perspective. It was obvious the defendant earnestly wanted to know what was going on, and in my view the judge should have dealt with that instead of picking up the pace to get it over with. More importantly, it was the PD’s duty to stop and quickly answer his client’s question rather than run roughshod over him just to accommodate the court’s calendar. Later, the PD, with whom I have some rapport, came over to me and disclosed a kind of funny confidential fact about another of his custody clients. I gave a quiet laugh, but in the back of my mind I came to the conclusion that he doesn’t understand his duties to his clients – or just doesn’t care. To me, the judge – and especially the PD – fell way short that day in terms of their legal and professional responsibility.
PS – This post is not intended to disparage PDs or APDs, some of whom have proven to be among the most skilled, experienced and dedicated lawyers in the courthouse. Most carry overwhelming caseloads, trudging on valiantly nevertheless.