I have people frequently come to see me that either have a Public Defender or are considering a Public Defender, and they want to air their grievances.
They’ll tell me, “The Public Defender just works for the State.” Or they’ll say, “The Public Defender doesn’t care about my case, or doesn’t care about me.”
Those things are not true. Let me set the record straight.
First of all, nobody gets drafted to be a Public Defender. In fact, it’s a hard gig to get. It’s very hard to get a job as a Public Defender.
Everybody who works there wants to work there, wanted to work there and jumped through all kinds of hoops to get the job.
They are government employees, that’s true, but their pay doesn’t come from the Prosecutor’s office. It comes from the Legislature. So, they’re not working for the Prosecution. They’re not loyal to the Prosecution. And they’re not being forced to work there.
The challenges for the Public Defender system really come down to a couple of things.
One is your typical Public Defender may not have the same amount of experience as a private attorney. For example, I’ve been defending people accused of crime for nearly thirty-six years. In Misdemeanor Court, the Public Defender is probably working at his or her first job as a lawyer since law school, and so probably has very, very little experience at being a lawyer.
The bigger problem, really, is their workload.
Public Defenders may have one hundred, two hundred, maybe three hundred open cases at any given time.
I’m at work as I write this today, and am dressed very casually. That’s because I don’t have court today and I don’t have client meetings today. I have a day where I can just work on my cases. I can do research. I can plot and I can scheme. I can return phone calls and I can return emails. I don’t actually have to see a client or a judge.
Public Defenders don’t often have that luxury. They’re in court almost every single day. And when they’re in court, they’re in court for the better part of the day. In addition to handling the cases they already have, they’re kind of on-call, because you never know when somebody’s going to walk into court that doesn’t yet have a lawyer, and the judge will appoint the Public Defender’s office to represent them.
As I said, a typical Public Defender might already have maybe two hundred or more open files. Here at the Kessler Law Firm, I try to keep my caseload in the neighborhood of thirty-five to forty open files. So you can see, I have a lot more time available to work on my cases, to think about things, to research things, to talk to my clients, get to know my clients better. And so I can sometimes be in a significantly better position to present my clients’ case, whether it be through negotiations with a Prosecutor, or in front of a judge or a jury.
Now, you can’t beat the price of a Public Defender. Public Defenders are there for people who can not afford to hire a lawyer, and they are basically free. I think they charge maybe a fifty dollar application fee that goes to the clerk’s office.
I’m not free. I’m a hired gun. People tell me I’m one of the more expensive hired guns in town.
If you’re looking for a bargain lawyer, you’re in the wrong place.