Stop Asking Where I'm From

God bless Public Defenders!

Written By: humarashid - Mar• 26•13

Did I ever tell you guys that I wanted to be a public defender? I did. I really did. If it would have been easier to get a job with them (they’re unionized, which makes it a little harder for newly licensed attorneys to join the ranks), I would have been. If they would have had me, that is. I would have loved to have been a public defender.

They’re not paid enough, they’re worked to death, and they’re spat upon by everyone from the judges, other lawyers, and even their clients. It’s a thankless job, and for some reason I can’t fully articulate, I wanted it. I wanted to be a public defender.

(I swear, I HATE how WordPress/Bluehost always mess up my damn gifs. How hard is it to maintain the freaking pixel structure?!)

But I wound up snagging an awesome job as a private criminal defense attorney, so I’m doing the same work, but less of it, and I get treated far better by my clients because, you know, they’re paying to retain me.

We get clients all the time who call us up and say they want to retain us because they don’t want a court-appointed lawyer. They give us some variation of “they’re not real lawyers/they’re not good at what they do/they don’t care.”

Which, frankly, is bullshit.

I just want to be like,

Sure, there are PDs who aren’t good lawyers – either due to apathy or a lack of experience. That’s true of plenty of private practice attorneys, too, but we’re not all painted with the same brush. PDs have a terrible image among the public, and it sucks. It just sucks.

Some of my good friends clerked for the local PD office during law school. Many attorneys I know and admire are former PDs, including my boss, Raymond Wigell. The attorneys that inspired me to become a criminal defense attorney were all PDs. They’re people who know the law, who are capable of handling a very heavy case load, and who care about every single client that comes before them, even when they can’t stand the motherfuckers. They are excellent attorneys and I cringe when I hear the sorts of things people say about them.

But that’s a rant for another day, I’m sure. A rant for many other days, if you stick around this blog long enough. (RUN AWAY NOW WHILE YOU HAVE THE CHANCE WHY ARE YOU EVEN READING THIS TO BEGIN WITH.)

I have a case down in Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, which is quite a ways away, so I’mĀ really looking forward to the drive, but whatever. What can you do?

The problem, though, is that I’ve never appeared in Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, because it’s so far away that people from that county generally seek counsel that’s closer to home. So I have no idea what the courtroom culture there is.

Will I be at a disadvantage there as a female attorney? As a Chicago attorney? As a South Asian, i.e., non-white? How does the State handle these types of cases down there? What is the culture in general? How promptly do they begin court calls in the mornings? What are interactions with the State generally like?

Basically what I’m saying is, what if I walk in there and immediately accidentally mess everything up forever?!

It’s a legitimate fear, you guys.


You’ve seen what a galloping hot mess I can be sometimes.

In the counties where I normally appear, there are different alternatives to convictions for this type of crime. There’s supervision, there are diversion programs, and so on. I basically really wanted to know what sort of stuff was available down there, the kind of stuff they’d go for.

So I did what any lawyer should do when he or she isn’t familiar with how things are done in a new county.

I picked up my phone and rang up the Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County Public Defenders’ office. Who better to help me out? I spoke to the secretary, who said she’d check and see if any of the attorneys were around and had a few minutes to talk.

(In the surprising event that no one there was willing to talk to me, I probably would have crossed my fingers and called up the State and gotten super ass-kissy as I felt out my options. But that was my last resort, other than just showing up and dealing with it on the fly.)

But the secretary put me in touch with one of the PDs, and he was a sweetheart. He took about ten minutes out of his schedule and really helped me out. I explained who I was and why I was coming down to Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Juice County, and what I wanted to know.

He told me all about how things run down there, and answered all my specificĀ and general questions. He told me that if I had any other concerns, or if on the day of my court date I found myself needing help, to grab either of the two PDs that are in that courtroom, and he gave me their names. He didn’t let me go until we were certain we had all of our bases covered.

And thanks to him, I have a really good feeling about this case. I don’t like going into anything blind, and that’s what would have happened here because I had never appeared in this county before.

Public Defenders are a great resource in general, and they know so much about their work because they have to, with the all the cases they have to handle at once. And it’s so nice to be able to reach out to others in the criminal defense community and get the help I need.

Yay for Public Defenders. Don’t any of you ever let me catch you bad-mouthing these court-appointed attorneys. That’s something I’d probably cheerfully slap the taste out of your mouth for. They’re the best among us attorneys for what they do.

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