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FOR THE DEDICATED, PUBLIC SERVICE IS A CAREER To the editor: The crop of young federal prosecutors whom you describe as “the future of big-firm litigation departments” [" Up-and-Coming AUSAs," May 19, 2003, Page 17] is very impressive. But the article is guaranteed to offend many dedicated career public defenders — and probably more than a few prosecutors as well. The article paints a picture of bright young lawyers racking up the courtroom hours in exciting federal criminal cases, not as “lifers” in public service, but as preparation for a well-compensated position with a corporation or big law firm. But a great many lawyers who go into the field of both public defense and prosecution are dedicated lifers. For them, public service is an end, not a means. I know countless public defenders with impeccable academic credentials and litigation skills, who could have moved to a big firm at any time, but chose to make a career out of their passion: ensuring that low-income people get as fair a shake in the criminal justice system as clients with deep pockets. And your article contains a hint of why they have that passion. For public defenders carrying caseloads of 500 or 1,000 cases a year, the image of a team of federal prosecutors with nothing to do but play cards for 10 days while waiting for a jury (in your article) is emblematic of the frustration — and determination — that they feel at the imbalance in resources, and power, between the government and the low-income person accused of committing a crime. This year, the 40th anniversary of the right to counsel enunciated by the Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwrightwould be a good time to write a similar series of profiles of public defenders who are the future of, well, our criminal justice system. We’ve got a good place for you to start: Every month this year, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association is profiling a “Gideon’s Hero” — a public defender or other leader or activist “who does justice to Gideon’s promise.” Our soon-to-be-announced May Hero, Penny Marshall, the federal public defender for the District of Delaware, is a Harvard Law School graduate who has never done — or wanted to do — anything other than public defense, and has just been selected as the first African-American federal public defender in the history of the United States. What makes this dedication all the more amazing these days is the crushing amount of student debt that young public defenders and prosecutors carry — commonly upward of $100,000 (which is why Sens. Richard Durbin and Michael DeWine introduced legislation authorizing loan repayment assistance for public defenders and prosecutors). Such dedication serves the public’s interest in the integrity of our justice system. H. Scott Wallace Director, Defender Legal Services National Legal Aid and Defender Association Washington, D.C.

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