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Hopeful Beginnings

Typewriter With Special Buttons

Today, my novel, Gideon’s Children, is being released, for which I am both extremely excited and equally grateful. My excitement is on high, because finally G.C. now has the opportunity to contribute to the growing discussion about the need to improve the workings of our Criminal Justice System, and thereby protect the individual constitutional rights that are the cornerstone of America’s democracy. And I feel so tremendously grateful, due to my gigantic good fortune in having such an oceanic body of family and friends who have enthusiastically supported my endeavor and continue to cheer me on. To those of you who have shared life with me for many years, heartfelt thanks are warmly flowing your way. And to new friends who I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person, individuals such as the renowned litigator and legal scholar, Michael Tigar, and the brilliant young columnist Renwei Chung for the highly regarded website Above The Law, who gifted G.C. with such favorable reviews, heartfelt thanks are also flowing to you.

The second hopeful beginning that I wish to share with you today also engenders both excitement and gratitude. Since I began my blog, its theme has been the vital importance of the judicial branch of our government, and the crucial need to improve the workings of our Criminal Justice System so as to protect individual constitutional rights and maintain the Rule of Law which founds American Society.

We all know that a problem cannot be solved unless we first admit that it exists. But until recent tragic events occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, relatively little attention has been paid to improving the numerous facets of our Criminal Justice System by elected officials and organizations with the power to influence.

However, as reported by Carl Hulse in the New York Times on February 18th, an extremely important development seeking to change this lack of  focus has occurred. “Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center (Center for American Progress), a Washington-based liberal issues group…usually bitter adversaries have found at least one thing they can agree on: The nation’s criminal justice system is broken.” And to fix it, they have come together to back a new organization: The Coalition for Public Safety.

Joining the Coalition in an unusual bipartisan approach, from the political spectrum’s left and right are the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Tea Party–oriented Freedom Works, and the Coalition plans a multi-million-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to “reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism, and take on other similar initiatives.”

A second goal of the Coalition is “to show lawmakers in gridlocked Washington that factions with widely divergent views can find ways to work together and arrive at consensus policy  solutions.”

I hope that those of you who are reading this are breaking into smiles that steadily widen as the possibilities for real progress sink in, accompanied by a grateful, prayerfully toned, “Wow!” And our prayers are indeed needed, for the problems are numerous and complex, and the viewpoints within the Coalition widely divergent. And in recognition of the extremely difficult task they have assumed, the leaders of Coalition have agreed to a three-year time period to determine whether they can achieve success.

Obviously it won’t be easy, and progress most likely won’t come quickly. However, I’d like to suggest that in a day and age when the principal activity of our two major political parties, at all levels of government, is hurling the word “NO!” at each other, followed by a barrage of name-calling, this endeavor by the Coalition for Public Safety is the very best news reported since I can’t remember when.

A hopeful beginning, indeed. To be celebrated and supported by all of us. In fact, because we very much NEED for the Coalition to reach its goals, in an age of information overwhelm and shrinking attention spans, each of us needs to take a vow not to allow the Coalition and its work to fade from view, and to instead follow its progress towards its goals and support it whenever possible by contacting our elected representatives in support of its bipartisan solutions.

As always, thank you for listening. And please share this good and hopeful news with your friends.

Jim Crow: Yesterday and Today

In two separate blog posts, on January 19th and February 17th, I discussed the issue of race and its cancerous affect on American Society. Most of us are aware of the laws, both written and unwritten, that arose after the end of the Civil War with the purpose of ensuring that the newly freed slaves remained the lowest class in our society. However, most likely very few of our citizens are aware that under the guise of The War On Drugs, a new Jim Crow arose out of the ashes of the old.

With the discussion on how to fix our broken Criminal Justice System growing daily, I want to strongly recommend an outstanding book, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. A highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar, Ms. Alexander not only possesses top-flight credentials to write about racial issues, but also the ability to write, and in this dramatic exposé of the War On Drugs and the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color by mass incarceration she makes an invaluable contribution to recognizing the need for reform.

In a crisp clear style, Alexander first provides the reader with the historical background of racial discrimination. Then, with passion, she sets forth the painful reality of what has occurred since Brown versus the Board of Education outlawed segregation, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 were enacted during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Yes, after 250 years of slavery, followed by 150 years of Jim Crow laws enacted and enforced to keep people of color in the lowest class of American Society, progress had been made. However, those elements of the White Power Structure that made Jim Crow possible in the first place did not give up. No, with great cunning they devised a strategy for a New Jim Crow.

Fully aware that a glaring weakness in communities of color is the fragility of the family structure, a product of slavery and the old Jim Crow, the opponents of social justice and equality devised a plan for magnifying that weakness, cleverly giving it a positive name: The War On Drugs. And then under the guise of protecting our society from drugs, the proponents of this so-called war turned loose the massive use of state power to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of young black males, which in turn increased unemployment and poverty within communities of color. Brilliantly and dramatically detailing how this plan was formulated and executed, Alexander’s book is a must read for anyone seeking a full understanding of the problems facing communities of color, problems which further fuel the rage following the recent events from Ferguson to New York City to Cleveland to Los Angeles and threaten the fabric of the Rule of Law which founds American Society.

Not All Lawyers Have Lost Their Inner Atticus Finch

During the past several weeks, the media has heavily publicized the upcoming release of a sequel to the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, fifty-five years after it originally appeared, garnered a Pulitzer Prize, and became a classic work. Subsequently made into a film starring Gregory Peck, who portrayed the novel’s protagonist, a courageous lawyer battling for moral truth and racial justice while representing a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman during the height of the Jim Crow era, this character, Atticus Finch, came to symbolize the righteous attorney: idealistic, virtuous, and brave.

This stalwart image in the public’s mind, contrasts however with numerous recent studies that report widespread cynicism with the legal profession by Americans today, and combined with the steady drop in law school applications, has caused serious concern to rise amongst the legal community. In fact, in a February 9 article on Slate.com, Thane Rosenbaum, the director of the Forum on Law, Culture, & Society hosted by NYU Law School, worried that, “Apparently, upon graduation, most law students lose their inner Atticus Finch. The inspiration that once hailed personal honor and the public good as fundamental values of the bar disappears in a haze of student debt and the allure of financial reward.”

Professor Rosenbaum’s reference to “a haze of student debt” is certainly a sad reality for large numbers of law school graduates today, and well illustrated in a recently released novel, Supreme Ambitions, by David Lat, reviewed in detail in my blog post of February 1st. Student debt in general is a serious problem within our society, and likely a reason behind the drop in law school applications, especially with the greater difficulty experienced by graduates in finding jobs after the Great Recession of 2008.

As for how Americans view the legal profession, I suspect that the reported cynicism is a facet of a general malaise of cynicism affecting our country today, and it’s not hard to see why. Hyper partisanship between Democrats and Republicans has led to virtual gridlock in Congress and numerous state legislatures, with incessant power struggles insuring that little or no attention is being paid to solving the serious problems in our society. Reports of corruption in both the public and private sector surface regularly in the media, from major banks being criminally charged and fined to government officials being investigated, and convicted, for failing to comply with election fundraising rules, taking kickbacks, and abusing the power of their office, three recent examples being Governor Perry’s upcoming trial in Texas, Sheldon Silver being forced to step down as Speaker of New York’s House of Representatives, and Governor Kitzhaber of Oregon being forced to resign. And thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, unlimited rivers of money from special interests are pouring in to dangerously pollute our political and electoral processes.

However, despite this troubling environment, it is hopeful to realize that thousands of young male and female law graduates from all sections of the country still see the public good as a fundamental value, and are staffing Legal Aid Organizations that serve the poor, Non-Profit Organizations such as Earth Justice that work to preserve the Earth’s ecology, and the Prosecutorial and Public Defender Offices within our Criminal Justice System.

Professor Rosenbaum is absolutely correct in his evaluation that the idealism, integrity, courage, and commitment to the public good symbolized by Atticus Finch is needed today more than ever. My novel, Gideon’s Children, which will be released on March 3rd, was written to contribute to the growing discussion of how to summon those virtuous traits to the cause of solving the problems facing our Criminal Justice System. Most hopefully that growing discussion will soon result in the desperately needed improvements to that system which is responsible for maintaining the Rule of Law, and further inspire law graduates, and those from various other fields, to never relinquish their inner Atticus Finch, and put it to work for the public good in which each and every one of us has a vital stake.

The Problem Of Race In American Society: Part II

King Memorial, Hopes and Dreams

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wrote a blog post in which I referred to a New York Times OP-ED by Nicholas Kristof last August 27th in which he posed the portentous question: Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? And in my subsequent discussion, I confessed that after honest examination I had to admit that I fit within the class of individuals revealed by recent research “who intellectually believe in equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who also harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior,” and suggested that if most of my fellow Americans were scrupulously honest with themselves, they would come to the same unhappy conclusion.

On February 12th, James Comey, the Director of the FBI, delivered an unusually candid speech at Georgetown University about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans in which he confirmed this unhappy conclusion. As reported by The New York Times, “He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race. ‘All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,’ he said. ‘At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups,’” a sad situation graphically depicted in my novel, Gideon’s Children, set in the tumultuous and transformative 1960s, and scheduled for release on March 3rd.

Further, Mr. Comey stated that “there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Most cannot help their instinctive reactions,” he said, but law enforcement officers need “to design systems to overcome that very human part of us all.” (italics added) The Times article then articulated how Comey proceeded to “lay out several measures that he said could ease the tension, including more interaction between the police and those they are charged to protect. ‘It’s hard to hate up close,’ he said. He then concluded by quoting Dr. King, who said, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.’ And Comey concluded his remarks with: ‘We all have work to do—hard word to do, challenging work—and it will take time. We all need to listen, not just about easy things, but about hard things, too. Relationships are hard. Relationships require work. So let’s begin. It is time to start seeing one another for who and what we really are.’”

Unlike Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York and Attorney General Holder, who were roundly faulted by  police groups for their critical remarks about law enforcement, I am highly pleased to report that Mr. Comey’s thoughtful and nuanced remarks were praised by a number of high-ranking officials from various police organizations.

I, too, want to commend Mr. Comey for his honesty and courage in urging all of us, police and citizenry, to face the human part of ourselves and work to overcome our biases so that we can learn to live as brothers.

Supreme Ambitions: A Novel Look Inside The World Of Appellate Courts

On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I deviated from my examination of the Criminal Justice System to pay tribute to the great Civil Rights leader in a timely fashion. Intending to return to this subject in my next blog-post, and explore the subject of prosecutors, I have decided that a further deviation is necessary due to the recent release of an important book, Supreme Ambitions, a novel by David Lat, the creator of the well-respected and heavily visited website, Above The Law.

I identify this novel as important, because while most Americans have some knowledge of criminal trials from books, movies, and television, very few have any idea of how the appeals process works, and little insight into the role of appellate judges, their clerks, and the lawyers who constitute the working blocks of this facet of our Judicial System. And by illustrating this more esoteric arena via a novel that entertains while it educates, Lat makes a highly valuable contribution to our understanding of this critical component of the Judicial System, and I highly recommend it as a must read.

Supreme Ambitions’ angle of entry inside this world is to provide the reader with a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day lives and motivations of the young, super-competitive law clerks who win highly coveted positions with federal appeals judges, by focusing, in a fast-paced and contemporary style, on one young Harvard undergrad/Yale Law School grad as she comes to terms with the “little monstrous,” “tough, strident, and manipulative” behavior required to be successful.

From the beginning, it is clear that most of these clerks (who play a vital role in providing appellate judges with mountains of research and recommendations on important legal issues) are there as a stepping-stone to a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship, which in turn is a ticket to a $300,000 signing bonus (goodbye student loans!) at a prestigious New York law firm. Artfully, Lat provides the reader with an insight into the long hours, the minutiae, and the complete lack of credit that are part and parcel of the clerks’ job, and allows the reader to repeatedly face the ethical questions that haunt the novel’s young protagonist Audrey.

In the end, while being entertained, the reader is presented with a clear view of the personal and career consequences both of going along to get along, as well as the contentious issue of (relative) whistle-blowing, and comes away perhaps more cynical about the human workings of the Judicial System, but with at least a trace of idealism extant.

Congratulations to David Lat for authoring such a valuable and must-read book!

Good News for Gideon’s Children

Gideon's Children

For the past few weeks, I’ve been discussing the various components that comprise the American Criminal Justice System, with appropriate references to my novel, Gideon’s Children, which will be released on March 3rd.

Recently I received a very positive review, which I would like to share with you:

“Want to know what really goes on down there where Justice is rightly portrayed as blind? Read this book. Fifty years after the Supreme Court upheld the right of every felony defendant to counsel, people charged with crime are often given only token representation as they are hustled through an assembly line process from arrest to guilty plea to incarceration. Against this tide of injustice are public defenders with courage, wisdom and skill. Their case loads are too heavy, their resources often slim. Judges may treat their efforts at principled and zealous representation as obstructing the “orderly” process of processing cases in crowded courtrooms. This process takes place in courtrooms that most people never visit. So along comes Howard G. Franklin, to show us what is going on. His protagonist is a principled and articulate defender in a California town. Here are the prosecutors, judges, clients and cops. You won’t get this kind of a picture on television or in the movies. Howard Franklin has been there.”

– Michael E. Tigar, renowned litigator and legal scholar, with seven appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court, professor emeritus at both the Washington College of Law and Duke University School of Law, and author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Thinking About Terrorism: The Threat to Civil Liberties in Times of National Emergency and Fighting Injustice.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day: A Time For All Of Us To Reflect, Then Renew Our Resolution To Expand Freedom and Equality

King Memorial, Hopes and Dreams Today we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great leader of the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. And living in the decade that marks the 50th anniversary of the tumultuous 1960s, fresh traumatic events, from Ferguson to New York City to Cleveland to Los Angeles, mandate serious reflection on both eras.

For despite the progress in civil rights that has been achieved, race remains the foremost social, economic, and political issue that divides America and threatens to tear holes in the fabric of our society.

In a timely OP-ED in the New York Times last August 27th, Nicholas Kristof raised the portentous question: Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? And the honest answer is: YES! For “research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who also harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.”

Wow, I thought, could that be me? Could I, who participated in the Civil Rights Movement as a Public Defender, and who recently authored Gideon’s Children, a novel arguing for fair treatment and justice for individuals of all colors in the Criminal Justice System, harbor such an unconscious attitude?

After much soul searching, I concluded that the answer was sadly: YES! And I think that if most of my fellow Americans are scrupulously honest with themselves, they will come to the same unhappy conclusion.

How can that be? How can such a subconscious condition originate? were the next questions I asked myself. And while I am not a psychologist, sociologist, or philosopher, after due deliberation Human Nature is the answer that tumbled into mind, a quick review of history then confirming it. For throughout the long story of mankind, someone or some group has always needed to rise above another, to be on top and hence better. And while this need to set ourselves apart from our fellow beings, to make ourselves feel special and better can, of course, produce constructive achievement if guided and guarded by conscience, if the rising is accomplished by pushing and keeping others down, while shelving conscience’s dictate to act appropriately, then a tension is created that leads to trouble with a capital T.

Most of us lead ordinary lives, and are not directly involved in the higher levels of the power structure that governs our society. However, that human need to be special, to be better, is still present and can unconsciously form attitudes that lead to harmful discriminatory policies and behavior.

So, to truly honor the great man whose birthday we celebrate today, I would like to suggest that amidst our environment of busy-busy-busy, fast- faster-and-faster-yet, leading to information overload and shrinking attention spans, that we stop for an hour or two, and honestly consider how we think and feel about how we relate to our fellow beings.

Then, let us resolve to do better. As Lincoln advised, let us summon the better angels of our nature, and taking one tiny step forward each day, be the change in the world we want to see.

Happy Birthday, Martin! And God bless!

Public Defenders: Noble Warriors, Often Maligned

In my final Blog Post for 2014, I indicated that to conclude our discussion of Public Defenders the next Post would explore the extremely difficult problem of judicial bias against them.

In my novel, Gideon’s Children, there are numerous scenes that depict this sad situation, several of which lead to vitriolic confrontations, the ugliest of which occurred as follows: “‘What’s the matter, Jew-boy, jigaboo-lover,’ Judge Steiggerman snarled out through a crooked smile, fuming in chambers at my refusal to continue a case. ‘Well, I guess you haven’t learned that all a Public Defender is, is a kike like you, defending your nigger clients from the good-guy WASPs like me!'” And if your first reaction is: Could this really happen? Under oath, let me assure you that it did!

In fact, two recent reports highlight this cancerous condition. On June 3rd, 2014, Ian Millhiser reported in Think Progress (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/06/03/3444530/judge-caught-on-video-telling-public-defender-that-ill-beat-your-ass/), that during a tense courtroom discussion between a public defender and Judge John Murphy, His Honor was caught on video telling the public defender, “I’ll beat your ass,” and then offering to fight him immediately outside the courtroom.

Then, on September 10th, 2014, in an online article (http://www.publicdefenders.us/?q=node/526), Timothy Young, Director, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, reported that while attending a meeting of Ohio judges, a judge who he respects introduced him to another that he did not know. This judge didn’t say hello or nice to meet you, but instead greeted Mr. Young with: “Oh, the dark side.” And when Young responded by stating that he did not understand what was wrong with defending the 4th amendment, the right to remain silent, the right to due process, and other fundamental rights in the Bill of Rights, the Judge then launched a diatribe about how “his money (yes, he identified it as his, as if it were coming out of his pocket) was being wasted paying public defenders/appointed counsel.”

Now, true, the above examples are unusually harsh ones. And let me make it perfectly clear that a great percentage of judges do not harbor such totally hostile feelings. However, the bias against defense counsel does exist, and arises primarily from two sources:

(1) Judges’ failure to put into actual practice the fundamental principle on which our Criminal Justice System is based: The Presumption of Innocence.

Judges, of course, are human. And operating under the relentless pressure of overloaded calendars that fosters an intense desire to force accommodating plea-bargains, consciously or subconsciously they operate from the position that the police have made an arrest, and the District Attorney has filed a complaint, so the defendant is obviously guilty of something. Therefore, they reason, the Public Defender ought to make a deal, and be grateful for it, and significant pressure via the power to sentence is placed on the Public Defender.

It should be noted that if the Public Defender elects to go to trial, he or she is the one accused of clogging the court’s calendar, not the District Attorney who filed the heavy load of cases, many of which are for minor offenses calculated to build conviction statistics on the assumption that they will be quickly disposed of via plea-bargaining for sentences that match the time defendant has already served in custody awaiting trial.

(2) Judges transfer the negative feelings they harbor for the accused to their representatives, Public Defenders. During my four-plus years as a Public Defender, almost on a daily basis I found it necessary to remind judges that it was my client who was accused of committing a crime, not me, and that as an Officer of the Court I was entitled to the same respect given to the District Attorney.

Moreover, this negative attitude by the judiciary spreads to court clerks and bailiffs who follow the judges’ lead, further compounding the hostile atmosphere in which Public Defenders must perform their duties.

Now, do I have a solution to this problem? No, I do not. As Immanuel Kant warned, “No straight thing can be made from the crooked timber of humanity.” However, as I suggested in my last Post, the overly congested court calendars could be greatly improved for judges, prosecutors, and defense counsel alike if more jurisdictions would follow New York City’s example of issuing citations for minor narcotics violations, and if state legislatures would reorganize their priorities so as to provide adequate funding for Public Defender Offices, which would relieve the onerous workload they are operating under.

My title for this Post referred to Public Defenders as noble warriors. Noble? you query. How?

Well, just imagine for a moment that you are charged with the responsibility of representing a man or woman charged with a crime and facing jail. At the counsel table, you are seated furthest from the jury (Why? Because you’re the bad guy, even though a presumption of innocence exists.), while the District Attorney is seated closest. He or she has the assistance of an investigating officer, the arresting officers who are experienced in testifying, an array of expert witnesses, i.e., fingerprint, ballistic, medical, and if needed, the full resources of the FBI.

You, on the other hand, have your legal knowledge, your wits, and your voice to summon on behalf of reasonable doubt. And alone on this uneven battlefield, against the awesome power of the Government, you sally forth to protect your client and his or her constitutional rights with every ounce of courage and strength you can muster.

Valiant? Yes, indeed. Noble warriors, tried and true!

As always, thanks for listening. And let’s chat again soon.

The Public Defender Crisis, Part II: Possible Solutions

As I outlined in my last Blog Post of December 3rd, 2014, 50 years after the Gideon decision mandated representation for defendants in criminal cases, Public Defenders across the United States are as underfunded and overwhelmed as the initial wave of PDs represented by the cast of characters in my novel, Gideon’s Children. And as I also  indicated, the following Post would be devoted to possible solutions.

Okay, to begin, let’s understand that complex problems defy simple solutions, and that  while the ideal of absolute perfection is a worthy goal indeed, significant steps in that direction that can be accomplished and which enhance the performance of our Criminal Justice System are no less valuable.

Step One is to address “underfunded.” There are simply not enough Public Defenders to handle the tremendous volume of cases, so even in an era of tight budgets, legislative bodies need to adjust priorities and provide the funding necessary to adequately staff Public Defender Offices. As detailed in my last Post, in New York, Governor Cuomo has seen this and is pushing his legislature to provide the required funds.

So, to those of you reading this Post, I urge you to take a minute and email your federal and state representatives and express to them your desire to see these funds provided now! Remind them of that the Rule of Law is based on the respect of our citizenry, and that if minorities and the poor can no longer believe that they can receive proper representation when charged with a crime, then a large hole is torn in the essential element of respect that founds the Rule, and violence such as experienced in Ferguson will reoccur on a growing scale.

Step Two is for the enormous number of the minor cases that clog the criminal courts to be reduced by legislation, and the exercise of executive, judicial, and prosecutorial discretion.

Numerous states have legalized the use of marijuana, which eliminates untold numbers of simple possession cases. In other jurisdictions that have not legalized marijuana such as New York, in New York City, Mayor DeBlasio unveiled a plan whereby people found with a small amount will typically be cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

Actions such as these not only help unclog crowded court calendars, thus freeing Public Defenders to work on cases involving serious crime, but they also allow the police to focus their efforts likewise.

Further, as illustrated in Gideon’s Children, Prosecutorial Offices, particularly at the City and County level, often file minor cases such as Drunk In Public (not driving under the influence). The Police, particularly in minority areas, are prone to arresting on this charge because it allows them to then conduct a search incidental to arrest in hopes of discovering drugs. And District and City Attorneys are pleased to file this misdemeanor, because they are most often plea-bargained, i.e., the defendant pleads guilty and receives a sentence for the amount of time he or she has already been incarcerated by the time of trial, and is given credit for time served and immediately released. The heads of District and City Attorney Offices are elected officials, and it is helpful come election time if they can point to the number of successful prosecutions that their administrations have produced.

What should occur is that if no evidence of a more serious crime is recovered at the time of arrest, the police should simply release the arrestee after he or she has dried out during the overnight stay in jail, and if the police persist in pressing charges, the District and City Attorneys should not file a formal complaint. In that the obsession with building  statistics is present, however, judges then need to pressure prosecutors to drop the charges at the time of arraignment, their argument from a position of power being that there is an array of more serious cases that need attention. And if cooperation is not forthcoming, then the judges need to dismiss these cases on their own motion.

Step Three is to cut down on the rate of recidivism, which is far, far too high. Numerous programs are being introduced into our prison systems to provide convicts with vocational skills and even college degrees so that upon release they can find employment and rebuild their lives. In addition, working toward the same goal, many states have programs to curb bias against ex-cons.

These programs must be enlarged. If society does not want repeat offenders, employment opportunities commensurate with their education and skill levels must be available, or a return to crime appears as the only other option. In a future Blog Post I will detail these programs, as they are so important as to deserve a separate Post.

Also requiring a separate Post is judicial bias against Public Defenders, and I will address this extremely difficult problem in my next offering.

As always, thanks for listening. And let’s chat again soon.

The Public Defender Crisis

As I indicated in my opening Blog Post, subsequent additions would focus on separate parts of the Criminal Justice System. As the first Post also emphasized, our democratic society is based on the Rule of Law, and as the sad situation in Ferguson demonstrates, when trust in that basic concept of justice breaks down, order is threatened.

Even sadder is the fact that while Ferguson clearly has tragic implications, this incident is far outweighed by the current crisis in the Public Defender System, because Ferguson is a single event, while every single day across the width and breadth of America Public Defenders struggle to provide representation and insure fairness in the operation of our Criminal Justice System in thousands of cases, with the potential for erosion of the respect for law and order obviously magnified.

As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrates, the first wave of Public Defenders created by the 1963 Gideon decision’s mandate for representation were underfunded and frequently overwhelmed. What’s truly frightening is that today, 50 years after the landmark Gideon decision, working conditions are as bad or even worse. As the brilliant commentator Leonard Pitts, Jr. pointed out in his syndicated newspaper column of March 17, 2013, a single Public Defender in many jurisdictions “can be expected to try 400, 500, 600 cases a year,” a burden that makes full investigation and proper representation impossible (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-03-17/news/bal-gideons-promise-still-unfulfilled-20130315_1_clarence-earl-gideon-attorney-criminal-court). Further substantiating this dire situation, on February 19th, 2014, The New York Times reported “that defender agencies in Missouri and Miami have won, in state Supreme Courts, the right to refuse cases they cannot responsibly handle” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/us/public-defenders-turn-to-lawmakers-to-try-to-ease-caseloads.html?_r=0 ), and on October 21st, 2014, the same source reported that in New York, Governor Cuomo “has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused New York State of failing to provide adequate legal defense for the poor in several counties, committing the state to paying for bigger and better public defender offices” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/nyregion/in-new-york-cuomo-pledges-more-aid-for-indigents-in-court.html).

Now, you might ask, is the Public Defender Crisis limited to large and heavily populated cities and states? And the answer is, no, it is not. Similar conditions to those detailed above exist nationwide, and like the violence connected to Ferguson, threaten to tear far larger holes in the fabric of our society unless corrected.

In my next Blog Post I will set forth a multi-tiered program for alleviating the serious problem outlined today. In closing, however, I want to stress the fact that while it is uncomfortable for all of us Americans to address, in the richest society in world history, we nevertheless have a significant number of our fellow citizens living at or below the poverty line. And if we expect our economically stressed class of citizens to maintain respect for the Rule of Law, and act accordingly, then we must insure that they can honestly believe in the ability of our criminal justice system to perform fairly for all citizens. And, I would add for your consideration, that it was never more necessary for this essential value to be preserved and strengthened than during an era of ever growing economic inequality.

As always, thanks for listening. Please feel free to respond. And let’s chat again soon.