CategoryGideon’s Children

Wondrous Books Make Meaningful Holiday Gifts

As Hanukkah and Christmas approach, I deviate from essays focused on our Criminal Justice System to suggest several books (in addition to Gideon’s Children, of course) that are entertaining, educational, and inspirational, and whose receipt would provide pleasure, knowledge, and spiritual growth to the recipients and their families and friends with whom they are sure to share.

Below, you will find full reviews of each of the books I am suggesting, which originally appeared on Goodreads. These works are true treasures, and my holiday wish for everyone my words reach is that you will gift yourself, as well as your loved ones with a present that will last a lifetime.

Thank you for listening. And all good wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and a brighter 2016 for our world!

#1: Beauty by John O’Donohue

As an author who fancies that he has some facility for using language, reading Beauty was truly a humbling experience. In fact, other than Thomas Wolfe of You Can’t Go Home Again fame, in my sixty-nine-year reading odyssey I have never encountered a writer with such a gift of language as John O’Donohue, and I highly recommend reading Beauty to experience of the author’s incredible ability to depict the various aspects of beauty and describe thoughts and feelings about it alone. Add to this gift, the author’s immense powers of observation and wise insights, and my opinion is that Beauty is one of the ten most important books that one could read.

Language…ah, yes, language. I will not attempt to use adjectives and adverbs to further describe O’Donohue’s gift, but instead supply a few of his phrases which were my favorites. “Time had come to rest in the silence and stillness of Loch Corrib;” “the tired machinations of the ego are abandoned;” “the interior geometry of things;” the automatic traffic of functioning;” “addicts of the familiar;” “imagination has retained the grace of innocence;” and “the silent majesty of the ordinary.” And speaking of majesty, Tom Verducci, a columnist for Sports Illustrated recently opined that “Defining majesty drives man to his literary boundaries.” I realized how true this was when I was faced with trying to adequately communicate how gifted John O’Donohue is, and I would opine that John’s boundaries were wide indeed!

Content…ah, yes, content. After treating the reader to an Introduction, defining beauty and its vital importance to our lives and our world, O’Donohue then separates his exploration of the subject into ten chapters. Looking back on Beauty, I think of it as a wheel with ten spokes: The Call Of Beauty; Where Does Beauty Dwell; The Music Of Beauty; The Color Of Beauty; The Joy Of Shapes That Dance; Imagination: Beauty’s Entrance; Attraction: The Eros Of Beauty; The Beauty Of The Flaw; The White Shadow: Beauty And Death; and God Is Beauty. And in only 249 magnificent pages, the author presents the reader with a wealth of knowledge and insights in the various aspects that compose the circle of beauty. Each chapter is so full of thoughts and feelings, that one reads and rereads constantly in an effort to drink it all in and hold it. Then, as I did, the reader most like will say to his or herself, “I’m going to read and reread these chapters one at a time over the rest of my lifetime.”

I conclude by again quoting Tom Verducci, who observed of another writing that “The knowledge and wisdom was so great as to invite our most ambitious attempts at commemoration.” My most ambitious attempt to commemorate O’Donahue’s Beauty is indeed feeble next to the genius of his work. I can only urge my fellow readers to enter its pages and experience for yourselves. It will change your life for the better! I received this absolute wonderment as a gift for my 75th birthday from my dear friend, Julienne Givot, for which I give heartfelt thanks!

#2: Consolations by David Whyte

I am very excited to recommend to you, Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, by David Whyte. My excitement stems from the fact that I have rarely read such a valuable book, and by that I mean that this 245-page collection of two-to-four page essays rewards the reader with a treasure trove of insights into what it means to be a human being. Whyte, a poet of considerable renown, with seven volumes of poetry to his credit, (as well as four books of prose), takes words like Alone, Beauty, Friendship, Joy, Pain, and Work, to name just a few, and presents a short essay on each that is filled with discoveries that stir both an intellectual and emotional reaction.

Whyte utilizes a beautiful lyrical style to explore the depths of meaning for each word, and one will find his or her head nodding in agreement with one paragraph, and smiling and shaking one’s head in amazement at discovering something entirely new in the next. And because the author manages to capture so many angles of insight in a short space, one can easily return to a chapter for rereading and the further reward this offers.

The genius of David Whyte was introduced to me by a good friend, Julienne Givot , and the best way I know to thank her is to introduce it to others.

#3: Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her first, Duende, won the James Laughlin Award, her second, The Body’s Question, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and her third, Life On Mars, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. Even though I am a lover of poetry, I was unfamiliar with Tracy’s work, and when my daughter Amy gifted me with her Memoir, Ordinary Light, I ordered Life On Mars to read alongside it, which latter volume I’ll review in my next post.

To begin, I’d like to share with you my feeling that in my seventy-five years I’ve never read a memoir that brought me greater satisfaction. Tracy’s use of language alone makes her memoir worth reading, her lyrical style, born from her poetic foundation, singing and dancing with metaphors and similes as sentences flow effortlessly into one another, while the warmth of her personality combines with her naked search for truth to create an intimacy with her reader.

Ordinary Light shares with its reader Tracy’s development from childhood through graduation from college as the youngest of five children in a remarkable African-American family. Born in 1972, as Tracy grows year by year in Fairfield, California, one learns the background of her beloved mother and father, including their roots in Alabama courtesy of Tracy’s grandparents who the reader also meets. Watched over carefully by her mother, her best friend, Tracy’s remarkable memory traces her thoughts and feelings about her mom beginning at age five, then expands her scope to include her dad and two brothers and two sisters. Artfully, she interweaves the influence on her young and developing life of each member of her family, then adds friends, school, and church to paint a picture so full and so real that the reader feels as if he or she, too, is included in the various relationships, and is traveling right alongside Tracy as she develops from a gifted kindergartner to a mature young woman learning from her mistakes as well as her successes.

Having been raised steeped in the Christian faith, but also to believe equally strongly in the power of education, as Tracy matures she, and her siblings, face questions that bring both building blocks into conflict. And what makes Tracy’s memoir so valuable is the depth of her thoughts and feelings she shares as she probes honestly and fearfully to find the truth and her own pathway into the world, a journey most of us can relate to in varying degree. In the end, Tracy learns and teaches that personally there is more than one truth, that her’s can differ from her mother’s and father’s without rejecting theirs, but instead taking a part of theirs and adding to it her own.

Ordinary Light is an extraordinary work by an author whose exceptional mind and memory are matched by the size of her heart. Exquisitely honest and sensitive, and wise, it is one of the very most memorable books it has been my privilege to know in my seventy-five years, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to my fellow readers.

#4: The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe

This work is a true treasure, like the paintings of impressionist painters who are its subject. And like the artists she chronicles, Sue Roe begins with a large blank canvas, then with a novelistic style masterfully fills it in with her subjects and their individual stories until the reader is presented with a full and satisfying group portrait.

First up is Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who from 1860 to 1886 supported and nourished the impressionists economically and with steadfast encouragement. Arriving in New York City in 1886 with 300 of their paintings, he introduces impressionism to America, and subsequently fosters prosperity for himself and his artists.

Then, retreating to the beginning of the movement in 1860, as time ticks forward Roe introduces her cast of nine artists one by one. And as the reader meets Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Manet, Degas, and Morisot, and they meet and connect with each other, the reader is treated to short but amazingly full mini bios that make each individual come alive as a real person. And with individual backgrounds and separate personalities established, Roe then treats the reader to the group’s twenty-six-year journey forward, during which these nine future hall-of-fame artists share struggle, failure, and success. And as they form a collective friendship, as well as separate friendships within the group, their private lives are illuminated. Affairs, marriage, children, illnesses, friends, exhibitions of their work, and the landscapes and people who inhabit their painting all spill forth to add to the reader’s knowledge of each artist’s separate life and the amazing interaction between their life as a group.

To further paint a complete picture for the reader, Roe weaves in the historical events surrounding the artists, from the development of Paris from a medieval city to the City of Light that Baron Haussman made possible, to Louis Napoleon and the Franco-Prussian War.

Roe’s writing is so rich with insights into the humanity of each of the artists she features, that after only 270 pages, the reader comes away feeling that he or she has far more than a survey-course understanding of each, and of what together they gifted to the world with their art.

#5: Julius Rosenwald by Peter M. Ascoli

Last October, in a newspaper article about philanthropists, there was a reference to a man who built schools for blacks in the rural south in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. His name was Julius Rosenwald. And intrigued, I consulted Wikipedia, which informed that Mr. Rosenwald was a major founder of Sears, Roebuck & Company and after becoming enormously wealthy, devoted himself to philanthropy on a massive scale, with particular interest in assisting the downtrodden. I also learned that there was a biography, which amazingly Amazon could not provide, but which Book Depository in England could.

Bearing the sub-title The Man Who Built Sears and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, Julius Rosenwald was written by Peter M. Ascoli, a grandson who never met him because Julius died ten years before Peter was born. Thoroughly researched, and written in a style that makes the reader feel as if Peter is telling one a very interesting story, the author begins with by introducing Julius’ father Samuel and his immigration to the United States and subsequent success in business and marriage to Julius’ mother to whom he was devoted his entire life. Subsequent chapters inform the reader as to Julius’ early years, his dropping out of high-school after two years, and his steady rise thereafter to become one of the most successful businessmen in American history.

Having stated in the Introduction that his primary focus was on the philanthropy of Julius, who the author personalizes by referring to him as JR, Peter then devotes the last three-quarters of the book to JR’s charitable endeavors, interweaving from time to time subsequent business successes of JR at Sears, and providing mini biographies of individuals who played important roles in both areas of JR’s life, from Rabbi Emil Hirsch, who greatly influenced JR’s charitable work, to luminaries such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and those who personally assisted him in his charitable endeavors such as Richard Graves and Edwin Embree, all the while filling in with fascinating episodes about JR’s interaction with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, as well as his beloved wife, Gussie, and their children.

What makes this book so readable is the author’s ability to make the reader feel as if he or she is meeting each of the cast of characters and knowing them. Through JR, a truly exceptional individual, the reader is both entertained and educated by his enormous success in business and philanthropy. In the latter arena, amazement also creeps in. For during the early decades of the Twentieth Century, a time when most of white America did not hold African Americans in high regard, JR established a program that over the next twenty plus years resulted in the building of 5,337 elementary schools for blacks in 15 southern states. And the fruitful way in which he did it is also amazing. JR worked with local black leaders, and local city-county governments to construct the schools. He would provide $5,000 ($150,000+ in today’s dollars) if private donations by blacks, and the local governments matched it. JR’s philosophy was that the best way to help poor blacks was to allow them to contribute so that they had a stake in the endeavor, and to draw government involvement so that as the years passed they would make the necessary investment to keep the schools running. As a result, millions of rural African Americans received a basic education, as well as vocational training.

JR also contributed to African-American higher education, becoming a Board Member of the Tuskegee Institute, and contributing to Fisk, Howard, and Dillard Universities. The list of his other charitable endeavors is well covered by the author, with The University Of Chicago, The Chicago Museum of Industry & Science, Hull House, and numerous Jewish Charities featured.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend this book, not only for its fascinating treatment of a special man and his times, but because it is highly relevant to the issue of social justice today, and has interesting suggestions about how American society can work toward achieving it.

For Public Defenders, ACJP Is A Godsend

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It’s a sad fact that fifty years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision mandated representation for every person charged with a crime, Public Defenders are still drastically underfunded, understaffed, overworked, and often disrespected by prosecutors, judges, court personnel, and sometimes their own clients.

As illustrated in my novel, Gideon’s Children (http://www.amazon.com/Gideons-Children), Public Defenders are outnumbered by prosecutors by as much as 3 to 1, depending upon the jurisdiction. When I served as a Los Angeles County Public Defender in the late Sixties, and was stationed in the Compton Judicial District, I faced calendars of 10 Felony Preliminary Hearings or 25 Misdemeanor cases alone, while the prosecution had two or three Deputy DAs handling the State’s interests. And while the prosecution had the assistance detailed below, I had me, myself, and I.

The job of a Public Defender is both difficult and lonely in equal measure. It is difficult because the power of the State is enormous. The prosecutor has at his or her disposal the officers who arrested the defendant, an investigating officer, handwriting experts, ballistic experts, a crime lab, and if further assistance is necessary, the services of the FBI. And it is lonely, because against this arsenal, the Public Defender almost always stands alone with the responsibility of defending his or her client resting solely on his or her shoulders. Even the defense’s placement at the counsel table reflects the unequal footing between the prosecution and the defense, with the Public Defender and the defendant seated furthest from the jury box and the prosecutor, who represents The People, closest, an implied good-guy/bad-guy status.

I cannot therefore emphasize strongly enough the tremendous value of the services offered today to Public Defenders by the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (http://acjusticeproject.org/) and their invaluable program of Participatory Defense!

In organizing communities and educating them with respect to the workings of the Criminal Justice System, then encouraging the active engagement of families in the defense of a loved one who is currently involved in this System, ACJP is providing an extremely helpful service to communities, the families of one charged with a crime, and to the overworked Public Defender who is representing the defendant. By knowing where to go to obtain a copy of the arrest report, family and/or friends can familiarize themselves with the allegations, contact witnesses on behalf of the jailed defendant if there are any, and take photos of the crime scene if relevant. Recalling my own experience as an overworked Public Defender struggling to give each and every defendant on an overcrowded court calendar the best representation possible, and the countless times I wished that I had an investigator to perform such tasks, the value of what ACJP is providing for Public Defenders is incalculable.

And building upon this foundation, ACJP then makes the further contribution of offering training to Public Defender Offices around the country on how to engage client communities and form partnerships with local stakeholders in order to increase the effectiveness and capacity of the program outlined above.

There are few win-win-win situations in life. But in helping individuals in our poorer communities gain knowledge of their own rights within our Criminal Justice System, then training them to further use this knowledge to assist a loved one charged with a crime, and in so doing, lessen the highly stressful burden under which Public Defenders operate in providing the best defense possible under the circumstances for each and every person they represent, ACJP is acting as a Godsend to all parties involved. As a former Public Defender, and one who has never lost his passion for pursuing social justice, heartfelt thanks to everyone at ACJP for the vitally important work they do!

I’m pleased to donate all of the proceeds from the sale of my book, Gideon’s Children, during the month of November to ACJP in support of their continued efforts to promote equality and justice.

Lady Justice’s Blindfold Is Tear-Stained

On August 12, 2015, I read an OP-ED in the New York Times by Law Professor Julie Seaman of Emory University, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/when-innocence-is-no-defense.html?_r=0, the essence of which aroused in me intense feelings of frustration and outrage, to the point of tears.

In 2001 a young woman in Thunderbolt, Georgia was sexually assaulted by a burglar wearing gloves, whom she discovered upon arriving home. Subsequently, the police found stolen items in the home of Sterling Flint’s girlfriend, who told them Sterling had stated that they were his. Thereafter, Flint made a deal with the prosecutor and testified at trial that an acquaintance of his, Sandeep Bharadia gave the items to him. Flint received a 24-year sentence, and Bharadia, who maintained his innocence and claimed he was 250 miles away at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life without parole.

Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney, for unknown reasons, did not request DNA testing of the gloves worn by the burglar-assailant, but his appellate lawyer did, as well as made a motion for a new trial. The appellate court granted the request, and the testing showed female DNA on the outside and male DNA – but not Mr. Bharadia’s – on the inside, but the appellate court declined to allow DNA testing of Flint, and no new trial occurred.

Several years later, however, the Georgia Innocence Project took up the case in 2012, and had the DNA results run through the national Codis DNA database, and scored a hit: The male DNA belonged to Flint.

Great news for Mr. Bharadia, right? WRONG! “Under Georgia precedent, a defendant is not entitled to a new trial based on new evidence if the court finds that he could have discovered the evidence at the time of the original trial, had he or his lawyer been diligent enough. Such requirements, which are common, are designed to prevent convictions from being endlessly re-examined.”

First of all, the overwhelming majority of convictions are not endlessly re-examined. And in this case if the appellate court had allowed Flint’s DNA to be tested, the result that it was his that matched the gloves would have been discovered in the first and only re-examination. So where does endlessly come into play here?

But far more importantly, while no one knows why Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney did not request DNA testing of the subject gloves, why should a defendant be held responsible for his lawyer’s mistake? As described in my novel, Gideon’s Children, Public Defenders (and private defense counsel) when they begin practice are inexperienced, and frequently exhausted by the overwhelming caseload they do their best to handle. Maybe that was the case here, I don’t know. What I do know is that no person charged with a crime, let alone a serious one, should never be penalized for his attorney’s mistake!

I ask you, dear reader: Stop and fully concentrate on the above-described situation. Then, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in Mr. Bharadia’s shoes, having already served 12 years in prison for a crime you most probably did  not commit, and now having a court agree with that proposition, but advise you that because of your attorney’s  mistake, and the expediency employed by the Criminal Justice System to avoid endless re-examination of convictions, you’ll still have to spend the rest of your life in prison.

I feel confident that if you do so, you’ll join me and Lady Justice in feeling outrage so intense that it spawns tears!

How the Original Atticus Finch*, the Righteous Lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird, along with Other Dramatic Works, Influenced My Becoming A Public Defender And Writing My Novel, Gideon’s Children

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When 1960 opened the door to the tumultuous decade of change to follow, I was in my sophomore year in business school at the University of Southern California. That summer I read the recently released novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and was profoundly impressed by its lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry racial prejudice. The novel’s protagonist, Atticus Finch, who displayed tremendous courage in representing a black man accused of rape in the face of open hostility by the white community in which he lived in the American Deep South, made a like impression, serving as he did as a moral hero and model of integrity. And as these teachings filtered through my conscious mind and touched a nerve deep inside me at the same time that the fledgling Civil Rights Movement began to occupy center stage in newspapers and on television, the idea of becoming a lawyer and fighting racial injustice in the courtroom took hold.

Later the same year, I viewed a movie, Inherit The Wind, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee (no relation to Harper Lee, Mockingbird’s author), and fuel was added to the proverbial fire. A fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which Scopes, a high school teacher was prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching evolution, and in which the famous attorney, Clarence Darrow in defending him faced off against the equally famous William Jennings Bryan who led the team of prosecutors, as the drama unfolded, I was once again mesmerized by the idea of how one lawyer, with courage and dedication, fortified with careful preparation, could fight for truth, justice, and a free society of ideas.

In 1963, I entered the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and that year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, standing for the proposition that if an individual is charged with a crime and is too poor to afford counsel, one will be provided to him or her free of charge. Reading about the story behind the case in Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis, a non-fiction book whose author possessed the narrative power of a novelist, in 1964, my focus was fixed on the Criminal Justice System. Realizing that the decision compelled the birth of large-scale Public Defender Offices, during the summer after graduation in 1966 I clerked for the L.A. County PD Office, and became a Deputy Public Defender thereafter.

Stationed in the Compton Judicial District, a low-income area hosting a large minority population of African and Latino Americans, it was my privilege to serve there for several years, and alongside my colleagues to fight for fair treatment and justice for that population.

Today, all phases of the American Criminal Justice System are in crisis. And that is why I was inspired to write my novel, Gideon’s Children, to educate readers about the birth of the large-scale Public Defender Offices in the 1960s, and the mini revolution they created in the courtroom as part of the greater Civil Rights Movement. And my hope is that while the reader is being entertained by a fascinating drama, that he or she will also learn about the workings of the Criminal Justice System, the supreme value of individual constitutional rights, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting same.

With the latter under attack today by the Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and government spying at all levels, and racially-tainted tragic events in Ferguson, Detroit, Staten Island, Cleveland, and North Charleston propelling a growing discussion of the desperate need to fix our broken Criminal Justice System, G.C. seeks to contribute to enlarging that discussion and further stimulating the New Civil Rights Movement that is now underway fifty years after the original.

I chose the novel form to bring this vital message to the attention of readers, because of my belief that the drama that this genre offers presents the best opportunity to capture and hold an individual’s attention over a period of time sufficient to allow the message to sink in and become indelibly imprinted. As I looked back at the books that made such a profound impression on me, I found that all of them first entertained me to capture and hold my attention, then with me intensely focused on the drama, effortlessly educated me about the need to banish racial prejudice, the First Amendment’s freedom of ideas, and the right to counsel, before finally inspiring me to become engaged.

The heroic courage and high moral standards exhibited by Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s fictional righteous lawyer, and echoed by the characters based on the real-life Clarence Darrow, entertained and educated and ultimately inspired me to participate, to become a Public Defender, and to write Gideon’s Children. And my wholehearted hope is that G.C. will entertain you, and educate you about the workings of our Criminal Justice System, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting the supremely valuable constitutional rights that each of us enjoys. And ultimately, I pray that you will be inspired to support our Public Defenders by lobbying your governmental representatives to provide the funds to vastly increase their numbers so that their caseloads will be reduced to reasonable and they can labor at their best to serve the interests of justice.

Public Defenders are today’s righteous lawyers. They are real, flesh-and-blood men and women who day after day, underfunded and overworked, and mostly alone, face off against the massive power of  the State, courageously seeking justice for their clients and protecting our precious constitutional rights. They are noble warriors, and they deserve  the support G.C. urges you to give.

*It has come to my attention via a book review in The New York Times on July 10, 2015, that in Harper Lee’s latest novel, Go Set a Watchman, the reader is presented with a second version of Atticus Finch that harshly contradicts the original character in To Kill a Mockingbird, portraying him as a racist who attends a Klan meeting and rails against desegregation.

I have not read Watchman, no do I plan to. It is my opinion that those persons responsible for the publication of this book, which tarnishes the reputation of the iconic “righteous” lawyer in what amounts to a paragon of crass commercialism, should be ashamed of themselves, and I refuse to contribute to their profiteering, and urge others to do likewise.

The Rule Of Law: Without Trust It Fails

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I focused on two of the World Justice Project’s four elements that form a working definition of the Rule Of Law, namely: Accountability and Even Enforcement. In that post, as well as several prior ones, I have stressed that the Rule of Law founds our society, and that in turn, trust founds the Rule, and Accountability and Even Enforcement found trust.

Yesterday, in The New York Times I read that two weeks ago four members of the British Parliament (two from the Labour Party and two from the Conservative Party) had traveled to Washington D.C. to argue for the immediate release of Shaker Aamer, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Mr. Aamer has been in American custody since he was apprehended in Afghanistan in 2001 where he was doing charity work. And after a stay in Bagram Prison, where he was tortured, he was transferred to Guantanamo in February, 2002, where he has remained for thirteen years without ever having been charged with any crime.

In our Criminal Justice System, the law requires that when a person is arrested, that he appear before a judge in court within a specified time period, usually 48 hours, and learn the charges against him. Under the Patriot Act, an enemy combatant has no such rights, and while I understand that in order to combat terrorism, those charged with the responsibility of doing so must be given some extra leeway, that flexibility to gather evidence and formulate a case should still be consistent with the concept of due process. Not being a terrorism expert, I’m not sure of what the time period for filing charges should be. However, I am sure that the Rule of Law requires the application of the principle of reasonableness, and that indefinite unequivocally fails to meet this test. Our federal government has never explained why, to keep us safe from terrorists, that if they suspect a person of being connected to terrorism, they cannot gather enough evidence to charge that person with a crime within a reasonable period of time.

So: Accountability score: Zero, as in none.

And to make matters worse, in 2007, during the Bush Administration, Mr. Aamer was cleared for release, but remained incarcerated. And in 2010, under President Obama he was again cleared for release after six agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and the Departments of State and Defense unanimously concurred, but remained in prison. And even after England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, while visiting President Obama earlier this year, asked for his release and President Obama promised to pursue the matter, Mr. Aamer still remains in Guantanamo.

Why? There may be some security issues, is what the four members of Parliament were told. After 13 years, without a single charge being made against Mr. Aamer? When he’s been cleared for release twice? Utterly unconscionable! is the only term that comes to mind to describe the actions of all three branches of our federal government.

And a serious blow to the essential element of trust, to boot. For if government officials at the highest levels are blatantly unaccountable, why should we trust the Rule of Law?

But it’s only one case, runs the counter-argument. Well, stop and consider that the same Patriot Act that has resulted in Mr. Aamer’s tragic situation also applies to you and me, so just pray that some official in our security apparatus doesn’t designate one of us as an enemy combatant.

For an encore, this morning’s New York Times reported that Kalief Browder, a young man who was held at the Rikers Island Jail in New York City for three years without ever being charged with a crime, committed suicide three years after his release. It appears that Kalief was unable to recover from repeated beatings by correction officers and fellow inmates, and the two years he spent in solitary confinement after refusing several offers from prosecutors to take a plea deal. His mother reported that while Kalief did obtain his GED and started community college after his release, he was never able to recover from the years he spent locked alone in his cell for 23 hours a day and suffered a steady deterioration of his mental health.

Where was Kalief’s Public Defender, and why was he not arraigned in accordance with New York state law within 48 to 72 hours? And how can that misfeasance swell to 3 years? And who is responsible for this tragic miscarriage of justice? No answers to any of these questions exist in the article, and I was unable to discover any by researching the issue on the internet. New York’s mayor, DeBlasio, has called for a major reform of Rikers, and in a statement, said: “Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts.”

Accountability score: Zero, as in none. And another serious blow to the element of trust, so essential to the Rule of Law.

And to demonstrate how trust is being replaced by distrust in the minds and hearts of many of our fellow citizens, this morning’s New York Times also reported that in Cleveland, “Community leaders, distrustful of the Criminal Justice System, said Monday that they would not wait for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year.” Ohio is one of a few states that have a statute that allow residents to request an arrest without approval of the police or prosecutors. And not trusting the prosecutors in Cleveland, who work closely with the police, and who will proceed by the secret grand jury process, community leaders have instead chosen to directly petition a judge, so as to obtain an open hearing with evidence provided by all sides involved.

Who can blame them, after so many unarmed African-Americans have been killed by police, and with rare exception were the incidents fairly and openly investigated?

For a significant portion of our fellow citizens, and in particular people of color and the poor, events, from Ferguson, to Cleveland, to Detroit, to North Charleston have seriously eroded the trust that is essential for the Rule of Law to continue governing our society. As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrated, the growing conversation about the crucial need to fix the serious problems in all phases of our Criminal Justice System needs to grow larger and louder now! Please let your municipal, state, and federal representatives know that reform should be at the top of their list of priorities. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the Rule of Law continues to found our society and all of the citizens who comprise it!

The Rule Of Law: Accountability Requires Recognition Of Everyone’s Humanity

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I noted that four principles formed the World Justice Project’s working definition of The Rule Of Law, and thereafter focused on accountability as one of the two most crucial factors in building the essential element of trust that underpins this Rule on which our society is based.

In an article by Gary Younge, the brilliant New York correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, which I received via a blog post on Goodreads (Younge post), Gary pointed out that all lives matter, and the failure of U.S. governmental authorities “to keep track of how many people its police kill” detracts from their humanity. In agreement with this opinion, and the loss of accountability that it entails, I responded to Gary’s post on Goodreads as follows:

Gary,

Your point is well taken. In the era of high-tech, where computers have made record keeping easy+, one could validly argue that the failure by governmental authorities to record the names, ages, race, and other vital statistics of every person killed by police is deliberate, and intended to dehumanize these individuals.

As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrates, Public Defenders must constantly remind judges, juries, and other court personnel, that their clients are human beings. Cases begin with the Judge stating: The People versus Joe or Mary, and prosecutors constantly cloak themselves in the aura of The People, i.e., The People will prove, the People contend, the People object etc. As my characters do in Gideon’s Children, when I was a Public Defender, when the jury was being selected, I would ask potential jurors if they realized that the term, defendant, was just that, a term, and that my client was a person. Thereafter, I used to object in open court to these constant People references, so that I could remind the judge and the jury that my client was a person, a real live human being, and one of the many individuals who comprise the People of the State.

This effort to dehumanize by the white power structure, which was begun in the era of slavery, then furthered fostered during the Jim Crow Era, was poignantly illustrated by Ralph Ellison in his classic novel, The Invisible Man. And while American Society has made progress on the issue of race, it remains a serious issue as recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, North Charleston, and Baltimore serve to illustrate.

Under The Rule of Law which founds our society, everyone must be accountable, and that includes the individuals who comprise our government.

In conclusion, I would emphasize that the essential element of trust underlying The Rule of Law cannot be maintained if those responsible for enforcing the law are not subject to the critical principle of accountability!

The Force Behind Gideon’s Children

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Recently I have received emails referring to my novel, Gideon’s Children, inquiring as to why I wrote it, and why I believe it is so very relevant to today’s happenings in our Criminal Justice System. The best answer to those questions, as well as several others that naturally flow from them, were set forth in a telephone interview I participated in with Renwei Chung, the brilliant young columnist for the highly popular and well regarded website, Above The Law.

Renwei and I connected through exchanges on Twitter, and after he read G.C., we agreed to a chat, which afterward was reduced to written form to insure accuracy. That format is what appears below, and most hopefully provides in-depth answers to the subject queries.

  1. What motivated you to write the book?

The current decade, 2010 to 2020, is the 50th anniversary of the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement’s struggle for freedom and social justice. I wanted to highlight the role of the newly created Public Defenders Offices in fighting to protect individual constitutional rights in pursuit of justice, in particular for persons who are poor and of color, as part of that revolution, and because those very rights are under attack today due to the War on Terrorism which has spawned The Patriot Act, The No-Fly Rule, and virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

  1. Tell me about your career, what motivated you to become a public defender?

Gideon v. Wainwright, which expanded the right to counsel when charged with a crime to persons unable to pay for same, was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963, my first year in law school. And as I watched the Civil Rights Movement expand during 1964 and 1965, I realized that while the opportunity to participate in Freedom Rides and marches like Selma had passed, I could still join the struggle by becoming a Public Defender and fighting for justice in the courtroom through protecting individual constitutional rights and insuring that poor people and people of color were treated equally and fairly.

  1. How has the profession changed since you started?

When I began as a Public Defender in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Warren was focused on expanding the meaning and enforcement of constitutional rights, in particular, the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments. Today, the Court has a conservative bent under Chief Justice Roberts, and has grown more restrictive in interpreting those Amendments, making defense counsel’s job more difficult.

  1. What would you do differently if you could go back to any point in your career?

My years as a Public Defender during the late 1960s and early 1970s were the most rewarding years of my 30-year legal career, so I wouldn’t do anything differently with respect to that period. Looking back at the years spent in private practice afterward, the one change that I would make is to have become much more involved in my local bar association, as well as the state bar association, so as to advocate that both groups work harder in designing and executing programs that foster social justice in the private sector, and use their influence to lobby local and state governments to prioritize programs to alleviate poverty and inequality.

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring public-service attorneys?

If you are going to be a Public Defender, nourish your passion for justice, and remind yourself daily that the work you are doing is both noble and valuable. Representing a fellow human being who is charged with a crime, is lonely in the sense that you stand against the awesome power and resources of the State, and because the hostility focused against crime and your client spills over onto you, you will not be popular with the police authority, the prosecutor, court personnel, and often your own client. Therefore, it is essential that you maintain a strong sense of how noble and valuable your contribution is to our system of criminal justice is, so that you can fully appreciate the difficulty and the rewards of your work.

  1. What is the greatest injustice or discriminatory policy you believe we are fighting today? What are the biggest injustices we have overcome?

American society has a long history with the problem of race. It began with the importation of slavery at the time of Jamestown and the Pilgrims, and was further augmented with the extermination and subjugation of Native Americans. After 250 years of slavery and 150 more of Jim Crow, even though we achieved some progress during the Civil Rights Movement with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this problem of race, of color, still bedevils our society, economically, politically, and in our Criminal Justice System. A few months ago, Nicholas Kristof in an Op-Ed raised and explored the question of: Isn’t Everyone a Little Bit Prejudiced? Inspired by his discussion, I explored the question in a Blog-Post on my author’s website on January 19th, and just yesterday in a speech, James B. Comey, director of the FBI stated: “Maybe it’s a fact we should also face: Everyone makes judgments based on race.”

We are all human beings: average citizens, political leaders, police officers, teachers, CEOs of international corporations, and so on. And as human beings, consciously or unconsciously, we all make judgments based on race, as well as many other factors such as good looks, gender, status symbols etc., but racial differences are at the top of the list for factors clouding our judgment. There is no easy solution to this problem, but what is necessary is for us to admit that this problem does exist, and for each of us to summon Lincoln’s better angels of our nature and remind ourselves daily to do better, to try harder to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

  1. What made you successful in your career?

Two Ps: Passion and Perseverance. I believed wholeheartedly in protecting my clients’ constitutional rights and in doing everything I could to insure that they received fair and just treatment at all stages of the Criminal Justice System. And in pursuing justice for my clients, I prepared as assiduously as time permitted, spent much of my off-time reading and studying case and canon law, and in the courtroom followed a firm resolution to never, ever, give up, no matter how dark the outcome appeared.

  1. If you started today, what causes would you fight for?

As recent events from Ferguson to Cleveland to Los Angeles illustrate, the struggle for freedom and social justice that was highlighted during the tumultuous and transformative 1960s is still very much with us today, fueled by the historical legacy of racial bias. So if I started as a Public Defender today, I would still fight to protect my clients constitutional rights and make every effort to ensure that they received fair and just treatment at all stages of the Criminal Justice System.

In addition, as a member of the state bar association, I would work to move that association to exert its power to educate the public to the terrible danger to our democracy presented by the abrogation of our constitutional rights presented by The Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and the virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA,

  1. What is currently keeping you busy?

As part and parcel of publicizing Gideon’s Children., I am blogging on my author’s website (www.howardgfranklin.com) on the Criminal Justice System, its component parts, the problems it faces, along with possible solutions, in an effort to contribute to the growing conversation in this area.

10.  What specifically can lawyers do to change the system? What can ordinary citizens do?

Lawyers can work through their state bar associations to advocate that the associations use their power and influence to press mayors, governors, and state legislatures to place improving the Criminal Justice System at the top of their list of priorities and provide the necessary funding for example to hire more Public Defenders so that their caseloads can be reduced to a level that allows time for full and proper representation. Recently, Governor Cuomo of New York requested their state legislature to provide substantial funds for this purpose, and state bar associations across the country need to lobby government officials for like funding. Likewise, additional funds must be provided to the various police authorities who provide extremely valuable services, and do so under dangerous conditions, so that they can: (1) Improve the training of officers, particularly in the area of dealing with mentally ill persons; and (2) Enlarge their efforts to meet with and better understand the communities they police, leading to a better understanding of the extremely difficult job officers perform, and hence more cooperation, thus building essential trust on both sides.

Average citizens can contribute to this effort by emailing and telephoning their governmental representatives to support the programs outlined above. And the value of thousands and thousands of emails pouring in to express support for such necessary funding of these programs should not be underestimated.

11.  Anything else we should know about your book?

I wholeheartedly hope that my novel, Gideon’s Children, will make a positive contribution by educating its readers about the workings of our Criminal Justice System and the critical need to improve those workings, as well as the equal importance of protecting our individual constitutional rights in the face of their abrogation by The Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and the virtually unrestricted spying on Americans by the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA.

Selma Revisited

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Last Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when 600 protestors, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., began marching from Selma to Birmingham in support of voting rights. They were met on the Edmund Pettis Bridge by Alabama State troopers dispatched by segregationist Governor George Wallace, who attacked them with tear gas, leather whips, and billy clubs, an unprovoked act of violence whose bloodshed outraged most Americans and was a major factor in the subsequent passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When I picked up my newspaper on the following Monday, the front page featured coverage of the celebration of that anniversary, highlighted by a photo of President Obama hugging Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who marched alongside MLK, Jr., and was bloodied during the tragic events of that historical day. And as my mind flooded with memories of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the question Have we overcome? also trailed into view and set off an intense reflection.

Well, we have done better, I concluded. After Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools, we further reduced discrimination in commerce and transportation via the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and with respect to voting courtesy of the Voting Rights Act. And, I noted with a smile, in that photo my eyes were focused on the President of the United States—an African-American. That’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever live to see, flowed my next thought, so yes, we have progressed, some positive change has occurred. But, Have we overcome? still lingered to narrow my smile.

In view of recent events, the answer to that question is a resounding no! First off, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the key enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, removing the Federal Government’s authority to supervise electoral requirements in our states and insure that discriminatory practices were not in play. Then, further, as David Love reported in via the Tribune News Service, “the Tea Party-led Republican Party has made voter disenfranchisement and suppression a top priority. Voter ID laws across the country have put up obstacles for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, the elderly, young people, and others. Some state legislatures have reduced voting days, including the Sunday before Election Day, when black churches organize campaigns to go to the polls. Moreover, as Al Jazeera has reported, Republican officials in 27 states have initiated a program that could purge 7 million voters from the rolls, particularly brown and black Americans.”

And, why? To prevent voter fraud is the answer provided, despite the fact that study after study after study reveals that voter fraud is so insignificant as to be almost non-existent. The real reason is that the voters sought to be removed from the polls overwhelmingly vote for Democratic Party candidates!

So, a new version of the poll tax, calling into mind the phrase, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And what is truly tragic is that most Americans, including most of our citizens who identify themselves as Republicans, are not in favor of retreating from the racial progress America has made, but are witnessing a regression fostered by a small, highly vocal, and extremely well funded right-wing minority that has hijacked the Republican Party and is dictating dangerously undemocratic policies that threaten to undermine the fundamental right to vote of millions of their fellow citizens.

No, indeed, we have not yet overcome. Race remains a huge problem in America, and if anyone doubts that sad fact, recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, make the truth of that assertion clear and undeniable.

In a community that is 67% black, the police department is almost exclusively white. An accident? No. And after a thorough investigation of the events and the culture surrounding the Criminal Justice System in Ferguson, on March 5th the Justice Department issued a scathing report, describing the Ferguson police and Municipal Court “as a system whose primary function was to make poor African Americans pay as many fines and fees as possible for petty offenses, real or invented.”

After reading accounts of this report in The Oregonian, once again that haunting phrase, the more things change, the more they stay the same, echoed into mind and triggered a vivid memory of the first jury trial I was involved in when I was a Deputy Public Defender in Compton, California, almost half a century ago. Depicted in detail in my novel, Gideon’s Children, the main character, Matthew Harris is defending a male African American charged with having been drunk in public. And when the jury panel of 200 persons from which twelve would be selected for trial is seated in the courtroom, Matt is stunned by his observation that not one of them is black, even though the community from which they are drawn is upwards of 80% African American.

The good news is that while Matt Harris was defeated by the stacked deck a half century ago, today the outrageous situation in Ferguson is being corrected. In the past few days, the officials responsible for the conspiracy of discrimination at work there have resigned or been removed, including the city manager, the police chief, and the municipal court judge. Unfortunately, the anger from years of persecution has unleashed violence from a few members of the community, resulting in two police officers being shot. Most hopefully calm will prevail so that plans for a new and better government in Ferguson can be implemented. I also believe that it would be helpful if those persons responsible for the utterly despicable actions in Ferguson were prosecuted for civil rights violations, thereby sending a message to all who would engage in like actions.

What worries me is that if the regressive forces at work are allowed to prevail, and millions of people of color are disenfranchised, and other Ferguson-like conditions are not ferreted out and remedied, then violence of a more significant magnitude will occur. For if a huge segment of our populace is not allowed to participate, and also feels that the Criminal Justice System is targeting them for grossly unfair treatment, then the respect for the Rule of Law necessary for it to govern disappears.

All of us lead busy lives. But each of us needs to make the time necessary to contact our local,  state, and federal representatives, and let them know that we are adamant in our desire for a new Voting Rights Act that insures voter participation by all segments of our society, and urges them to foster and nourish programs designed to promote excellent relationships between police and the communities which they serve.

Hopeful Beginnings

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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.

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.