Thursday, December 31, 2009

difficulties ahead

I just published a draft post below that I wrote about a month ago about how I am trying to leave my job as a public defender. I hadn't decided to post it until today. I wrote it thinking that I would get things off my chest and feel better. Then, I thought I would feel better and not need to post it.

I was wrong.

I still feel that way. Taking stock of my life on the traditional day that we do so in this country (and around the world), I still want a new job. A few years ago, on New Year's Eve, I spent the evening with 2 girlfriends being snowed in in one of the smallest towns in the country. So small that we went out to the town green at midnight with all our dogs, wished the town a happy new year each with our own bottle of champagne, and no one else was around. I was so peaceful . . . and snowy. It was beautiful.

My favorite part of the evening, however, was when we reflected on the past year month by month. A bit arbitrary to split things by month, but it was mostly about themes and larger events. I was able to remember what I was going through each month and see whether I'd learned anything from the experience (sometimes yes, sometimes no).

Tonight, I wanted to renew that tradition with myself, but I can't remember anything from the past year except:
1) I've worked every vacation I've tried to take this year.
2) I've worked to the point where all my hobbies have faded.
3) I can see nothing but stress.
4) I can't watch movies that are sadder than Disney movies anymore because I get too much "real" life in my career.

This is not how I envisioned my life. When I mentioned my decision to leave criminal defense work to a good friend, he couldn't have been happier for me. I've known this person for a decade, and he commented that he has never seen me more miserable than I have been in the past year. It's too bad he didn't have a crystal ball before I took a job at the public defender's so he could warn me. Would I have listened? Probably not, I suppose.

So, what can I learn from this? I don't really know yet. I do know that I don't want to swear off criminal work entirely, but I am ready for a new challenge.

If I could just find some way to get over the terrible legal job market . . .


I recently decided that I cannot continue to be a public defender. The job is not a legal one, but one designed more for social work--social work without any resources to actually help people. I cannot tell you then number of times I wake up disappointed that I have to live through another day, being over-worked and accomplishing nothing. I feel frustrated and angry at myself that I can't do this job. I really wanted to do this and do it well. But I won't do it at the expense of the rest of my life.

Yes, I could change the way I practice. I could cut most of the social work out of what I do. I could attempt to humanize my clients less with the prosecutors and judges. I could deal strictly with legal issues that come up in my cases. I've reflected on that and determined that this would not make things any better. I've done the social work aspect of this job. I've seen the good things that can come from it, like getting a no-time misdemeanor plea out of a felony charge that comes with a minimum sentence of a year in jail. If things like that are possible, shouldn't I attempt to do that for all my clients? If I don't, am I not partially playing judge? Yes, this client deserves my time and attention, but that one over there doesn't. I am so far from being able to do that. One person should not be more deserving of my time than another.

I've heard that over time you begin to see which cases really deserve your time and attention and which ones don't. But I've had cases that looked impossible and pointless that turned out to be different than they first appeared because I did the extra social work. I never expect to be good enough to develop any e.s.p in this area.

So there it is. I haven't resigned yet, but I dream about it every day. Every day I make new contacts and work towards my next job.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

*danger ahead*

Be afraid asserting constitutional rights. Be very afraid.

Today, I was yelled at by a judge for asserting my client's right to confront witnesses guaranteed by both the state and federal constitutions. There was an emergency hearing today to take my client away from his family and send him to jail two days before Christmas. The State had no witnesses to back up its charges. I was just doing my job putting things on the record (the judge only glared at me and took no notes as I made my arguments, so I realized I was speaking only for the record). I couldn't even get through my sentence before the Judge told me I was being disingenuous and blamed the lack of State's witness on me. Somehow it was my fault that the witness couldn't come to the emergency hearing which had practically no advance notice.

It's too bad I didn't learn my lesson and plan to continue to assert my client's rights in this judge's courtroom in the future.

It's also too bad that I had to cry with a boy and his family split right before the holidays.