Tuesday, August 02, 2005

“Routinely pushing my clients to the back of the bus is unacceptable”

Defendants who can afford to hire a private attorney get their cases heard first in some courtrooms while the poor with public defenders must wait, says Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

“A judge’s practice of calling public-defender cases last signifies to our clients that the judge sees them as less important than private attorney clients and that their lawyer is not respected,” Finkelstein wrote. “Routinely pushing my clients to the back of the bus is unacceptable.”

Read the report by Sun-Sentinel columnist Buddy Nevins here.

This isn’t the first time Finkelstein has rocked the boat. Back in June, he put an end to a practice called “meet ‘em, greet ‘em and plead ‘em,” forbidding his attorneys from advising indigent criminal defendants to plead guilty at arraignment unless they’ve had “meaningful contact” with their clients in advance. See previous post here.

Thanks to Indefensible for the link.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Juan Paxety said...

When I practiced law years ago in a county where I was frequently appointed to represent indigent defendants (no public defender), the practice was to deal with the defendants in jail first - which meant, usually, the indigent ones as they lacked money to get out on bail.

As for the other issue, I don't know what he means by "meaningful contact." In many cases the defendant knows he's guilty and knows the prosecutor can prove he's guilty. Usually an experienced defendant and experieced attorney know approximately what sentence is normally given for the offense, and if the prosecutor is willing to recommend a sentence in that range, many defendants are willing to go ahead and plead.

What's the advantage to the defendant? He gets out of the local jail and gets into the state prison system. I'm told by prisoners that jails are "too close to the street." That the people there are frequently still high on drugs, have mental problems, or just don't know how to act in prison. They tell me state prisons are more stable environments.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Jacqueline Dowd said...

I think "meaningful contact" means something more than: "hello, how are ya?, pleading guilty will get you out of jail now."

At the very least, clients deserve an explantion that a guilty plea will stick to you forever because withholding adjudication or sealing records doesn't matter anymore in the computer age.

I've seen folks plead guilty to stupid little crimes that ended up getting them in big trouble with immigration.

Public defenders (all lawyers, actually) are ethically obliged to tell their clients about any plea offers, at arraignment or any other time.

In any particular case, a plea at arraignment might be the right thing to do. But I hafta be concerned about a system that encourages quickie pleas. I prefer a system that discourages them, so that when you do it, you're forced to think about it.

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