In defense of public defenders
November 10, 2010
I do not know the district attorney or the public defenders who have been involved in the recent controversies reported in the press. Also, I am not familiar with the facts of the dispute so I am not making any judgments as to any particular cases. I do know, however, that the judges of the 9th Judicial District demand the highest level of competency from the attorneys that appear before them whatever their status may be, and if any attorney is acting in an unprofessional manner he or she will be quickly corrected by the judges.
Based on my experience, public defenders in general are some of the most dedicated members of the Bar. They are always overworked and underpaid. They are champions of the poor and are required to represent defendants who are often uncooperative or disturbed; and are charged with some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Usually some of the best lawyers in the courtroom are public defenders.
By choosing this type of work they truly show their belief and respect for the rule of law and a free society. There are now thousands of former public defenders who are judges, state attorneys, legislators, elected officials, important government personnel, and outstanding lawyers in private practice. Our own fine Aspen city attorney, John Worcester, is a former public defender.
The community should realize that when a court suppresses criminal evidence in a case based on the advocacy of a public defender the real winner is the community as a whole. The court is required by law (the exclusionary rule) to penalize the state for illegal conduct in order to deter future unreasonable searches and seizures of innocent citizens who may have no connection to any criminal activity. When judges take this action they do not rule on legal technicalities or loopholes but rather the law of constitutional rights and safeguards.
Great contributions to the justice system by public defenders can easily be seen in a wonderful book just published “Raised by the Courts” by Judge Irene Sullivan, a nationally recognized expert on juvenile justice. Judge Sullivan over the years has visited Aspen to ski, hike, and attend the Aspen Institute. The front book jacket includes an endorsement by Chris Evert and her charities. Judge Sullivan has an entire chapter entitled “Toughest Job in the Courthouse: Public Defenders in Juvenile Court.” The job is also the same for public defenders in other types of cases.
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Bob Nix Sr.