As public defenders, it's been hard to watch the defacement of our federal courts by the Trump administration. From the Supreme Court on down, the country's judicial benches are occupied by fewer people who have fought for compassion over cages. For every public defender on the federal bench, there are four former prosecutors —and the ratio is seven to one if you expand the comparison to lawyers who represented people instead of just lawyers who represented the government. State and federal judicial posts are packed with individuals who have spent their careers defending corporate polluters, protecting big real estate, or filling our jails and prisons, leaving ordinary people looking for the protection of the courts out in the cold.
One of the nation’s most respected public defender nonprofits is unionizing, the latest in a surge of union drives at prominent nonprofits across the country. The Bronx Defenders, a large nonprofit that defends low-income people in the Bronx, New York, told management today that they intend to unionize with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, an affiliate of the UAW. The proposed union will have about 270 members, covering virtually the entire non-management staff. Of those, about 100 are not attorneys, including everyone from social workers to paralegals to facilities workers. Employees at the Bronx Defenders cited issues like pay, health care benefits, and equality of professional development and promotions as motivating factors for the union drive. But one factor stood out more than any other: the potential for burnout among public defenders and those who work alongside them.
By Bill Quigley for Social Justice Advocacy - New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter, a former police officer, ruled that seven people awaiting trial in jail without adequate legal defense must be released. The law is clear. The US Supreme Court, in their 1963 case Gideon v Wainwright, ruled that everyone who is accused of a crime has a Constitutional right a lawyer at the state’s expense if they cannot afford one. However, Louisiana, in the middle of big budget problems, has been disregarding the constitutional right of thousands of people facing trial in its most recent statewide public defender meltdown
By Jonathan Rapping in Talk Poverty. Brendan Dassey, a 16-year-old with a developmental disability, was accused of rape and murder. The police exploited his cognitive limitations to secure an unreliable confession. Prosecutors took advantage of his vulnerability to engineer his conviction. And the court refused to sufficiently correct these and other obvious injustices. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that Dassey’s own lawyer—who had been appointed by the court—assumed that his client was guilty and refused to investigate his claims of innocence. All of this and more is explored in the much-discussed Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer. It exemplifies exactly what the Supreme Court declared in the 1963 case, Gideon v. Wainwright: only with the aid of effective defense counsel is justice for all ensured.