In Defense of the Defenders

In Defense of the Defenders

By Michael Ward

Posted 1/14/2013 by Tori Jo Wible (Guest Blogger)

All lawyer jokes aside, and I’ve heard them all, one of the things that makes me the proudest of our profession is lawyers protecting the rights of the most hated clients.  One of my heroes is John Adams, not just because of his position as a founding father, or because he looks a lot like Paul Giamatti, but because he defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre; a truly difficult position, even without a 24 hour a day news cycle.


In our society, pro bono counsel frequently take on unpopular clients, such as the lawyers representing detainees held in Guantanamo Bay.  However, the modern-day John Adamses are the public defenders.  The indigent criminal defendant is often an unlovable client.  The fundamental role of the defender is to ensure that the client’s rights are protected.  The three parts of the criminal justice system – the judiciary, the prosecution and the defense – must all do their jobs effectively for the system to work.  All too often, public defenders are overwhelmed with impossible caseloads, unmanageable timelines and dwindling budgets. 


What does any of this have to do with bar leaders?  Plenty. Bar associations can help courts avoid the breaking point. Find out how at the Indigent Defense Summit at the ABA Midyear in February. Buck Files, President of the State Bar of Texas and a criminal defense attorney, will be one of several high profile speakers discussing what bars can do to solve the crisis.


This year is the 50th Anniversary of the landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. The promise of Gideon remains unfulfilled; come learn what you can do to help. The Summit runs all day Saturday, February 9, but the sessions most relevant to bar leaders are in the afternoon.  ABA President, Laurel Bellows has been invited to discuss how the private bar can help public defenders meet the promise of Gideon.


Tori Jo Wible is assistant staff counsel for the ABA's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. Reach her at tori.wible@americanbar.org.


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