PDs and Private Lawyers: Last Thoughts

I’ve been on a tear about Hartley, R.D., et. al.’s Do you get what you pay for?

Aside from their sloppy writing and questionable conclusions, the collaborators wrote a couple of things that really ticked me off.

First, they consistently wrote about what happens to human beings in a criminal courthouse as “case processing,” as in:

Public defenders, like prosecutors and judges, want to ensure the smooth and efficient processing of cases.

That’s downright libelous to all of the ethical and conscientious public defenders who, rather than wanting to ensure the smooth and efficient processing of cases, want to make it as difficult as possible for the state to put their clients into boxes. We’re not making Soylent Green, we’re fighting for souls. Some prosecutors and judges may think of what they do as case processing, but nobody who shares that view is welcome at the counsel table with me.

Second, the authors also wrote several times about “the courtroom workgroup,” as in:

The idea of a courtroom workgroup model of negotiated justice is further supported by the results of the analyses partitioned by disposition type.

and

Some of the criticism of public defense counsel focuses on their non-adversarial relationship with other members of the courtroom workgroup.

You better believe it. Relationships can be friendly, but ours is an adversary system, and any lawyer who thinks he belongs to a “workgroup” with his adversaries is no friend of the Sixth Amendment, and no friend of mine. May posterity forget you were our countrymen.

There are more than enough such lawyers in the private bar, like the federal criminal-defense lawyers who think that “everyone gets convicted anyway.” If you ignore acquittals and dismissals (of which they have none, because nobody ever wins by pleading guilty), they might seem to be doing well for their clients—metrics of the sort that Hartley and his colleagues focus on favor the lawyer whose version of advocacy requires knee pads and Vaseline. But such metrics and such lawyers ignore the fact that the more lawyers go along to get along, the more people get convicted of things the government couldn’t prove, and even of things the people didn’t do.

So to Hell with the courtroom workgroup, I say, and to Hell with the processing of human beings. And if you’re one of those “courtroom workgroup” “smooth and efficient processing of cases” criminal-defense lawyers that Hartley is talking about, you can go to Hell too.

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