Wednesday, December 30, 2009

RE-entry into work and some reflections on how important it is to treat people like people

It has been alright getting back to work after what was a real week off. Part of what helped was that both of the days in court were not too heavy, which meant I had less than ten clients and time to actually talk to my clients like they were human beings. On Tuesday, I even had the luxury of sitting down at a table across from my clients and discussing their legal situation and their life situation! Public Defender work really does stretch you at times. Most the time I know very well what to do legally to get my client a good deal, but I don't have time to let my client know what is going on or that I know what is going on. But, by the way I do things, they can at least tell I know what is going on, and what I am doing. But, I hate leaving them out of it all, as if they didn't matter, when its their life in the balance. I remember being in court several times and telling a client: "If you will just shut up, I'll get you out of jail." Another time I remember saying: "When we go in front of the judge, just keep your mouth shut; it is what I say that will get you out of jail." And, I do produce. I get people good deals; I get people out of jail.

But, when I have a couple of days like I did this week, I can really enjoy practicing law. Because I had the time and took it - to just talk with my clients and get to know them a little.

I remember one terrible day at the Public Defender's Office. We had a young woman (mid-20's) who had a couple of minor charges. The only reason she remained in jail was that she hadn't paid her court costs in an old case. I had briefly dealt with one of her cases a couple of days before, and then that Friday morning she went to court for the court cost case which was holding her in jail. And, one of our attorneys went in front of the judge and presented her case, and the judge ordered her held for two weeks until the hearing date (this was all over $2oo or $300 she hadn't paid). I remember she had stitches in her head, because she had had a seizure and fallen and hit her head. And, right after the judge ordered her held, they took her back to the holding cell. She told the guard that she wasn't feeling well - could she go back down to the jail now. He took her down. When she got down there, she found a belt and hung herself.

Our attorney that was in court that day felt terrible. He was rushed, under pressure with about 20 cases to deal with. I felt bad too, because I remember sort of rushing through talking to her on her case a couple of days before.

If anyone had taken the time to treat her like a human being, she might be alive today. And, why in the hell was it worth putting her in jail over court costs? I really hate our legal system here in Blount County sometimes. A few dollars weigh more than human life and human concerns on many days. And, many times we fight against this inhumanity of the system in our office, but there are days that we are just another part of this inhumane system that crushes people.