To the editor:
I am compelled to respond to Jay Sterling Silver’s Aug. 13 commentary, “The Indignities of Public Defending.” For many years I did public defender work as a pool attorney. More recently, I have been a public defender in several municipal courts, representing the full range of minor criminal drunken driving and motor vehicle offenses. As a pool attorney I handled everything up to defense of capital murder cases. I have never felt in any way that I am looked down upon by other lawyers.
Like Professor Silver, I have other lawyers in my family, but none have ever made derogatory remarks. On the contrary, I have always felt pride in my ability and the way I have developed confidence to take any case, criminal or civil, before a jury.
I have been a lawyer since 1973 and have encountered numerous trial attorneys who started out in the Public Defender’s Office or the pool. The skills learned there have been invaluable and many of them have moved on to other areas of law practice. I have also seen and known attorneys who started out as commercial litigators or in other areas of practice and later moved into the public defender orbit. Some of them have said to me that they never felt like “a real lawyer” until they started handling criminal cases.
In a system that is moving away from civil trials toward various forms of arbitration, mediation and alternative dispute resolution, it is inconceivable that the criminal jury system would be abolished. It is the heart of our constitutional system. Public defenders as well as prosecutors make the system work.
Marshall L. Gates