Defending a defender
May 13, 2002
I am writing you to express my “extreme displeasure” with your editorial May 4-5. A newspaper editorial should express the opinion of the newspaper staff, but only after a thorough examination of the facts surrounding an issue. A newspaper editorial should also adhere to journalistic ethics. Unfortunately, your editorial did neither.
Your editorial staff did not contact Jim Conway to attempt to understand his job, or his decisions in this case before jumping on the bandwagon in accusing a conscientious, kind, decent man of bringing “shame on himself and his profession.”
I am a female attorney who has worked with Jim Conway for two years. Jim has been a public defender for 15 years. His job, and mine, is to stand up for anyone who is charged with an offense; to speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. Public defenders do not have the luxury of choosing their cases or their clients.
The job of a public defender is to zealously defend her/his client, so that the jurors hear the best defense that can be offered, so that the jurors can make a fair decision. Jim’s job is to give effect to the United States and Colorado Constitutions, which provide that guilt or innocence will be determined at a fair trial, by a jury. Which is precisely what happened in this case.
You will notice that when I use quotation marks around a phrase or sentence, the phrase or sentence was actually used by you in your article. In your editorial, you use unattributed quotation marks around words or phrases, implying that these are quotes from Jim Conway. In fact these words were never uttered by Mr. Conway.
What actually happened in the recent trial in Aspen is that Jim represented a young, Spanish-speaking client, who would not have understood anything that was happening in court without Jim’s services.
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Jim’s duty, which he fulfilled thoroughly and competently, was to present all possible defenses to the jury, including the defense of consent. The jury in this trial found Mr. Garcia-Flores guilty of all charges.
With Jim’s zealous representation, the community can now be confident that a fair trial was held, and that a fair verdict was reached. Without Jim’s services, an innocent man could be just as easily convicted as a guilty one.
Although you do not accurately report statements made by Jim during the trial, you seem to take issue with Jim’s choice of words. During that trial, up until the verdict, Mr. Garcia-Flores was presumed innocent of all charges.
Jim’s questions to the victim in this case, and comments made in closing and opening statements were carefully phrased to protect his client’s presumption of innocence. This is a fundamental right that protects not only a person charged with a crime, but the integrity of our entire system of justice.
Fundamental rights to a competent, zealous attorney; to be presumed innocent of all charges; and to a fair trial must be guaranteed to all people. Without good attorneys willing to represent thoroughly and completely even those accused of heinous crimes, we are all at risk of losing our liberty.
I, for one, applaud Jim Conway for having the courage to stand up for my rights, your rights and the rights of all citizens. I am proud to call him a colleague and a friend.
Jamie J. Roth