I was a public defender. They are my people and I will always belong to their tribe

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good morning:

I write just after midnight to say something that has been on my mind all day and night.

I want to put in a good word for Denise Regan, the public defender representing Philip Chism. As I wrote yesterday morning, she released a statement on behalf of Philip’s mother stating,

On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever. Ms. Chism’s heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer.

Ms. Chism would like you to know that her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully asks for some time to process this.

She asks that you know that she cares for the world’s hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy.

I do not doubt that Ms. Chism made this statement, but I have a feeling that Denise Regan helped her to find the right words with which to express her thoughts and emotions.

I say that because I used to do this in my death penalty work. I not only met with my client’s family to show that I genuinely cared about them and wanted to be of service in any way they believed might help them deal with the bad news, including issuing a public statement that I assisted them to write, I approached the victim’s family and offered to answer any questions they had about my role in the case. With a victim’s family, I just wanted to let them know that, although I represented the defendant, I also was a human being who knew they were in pain and would try to answer any questions they had about the death penalty and the procedures that would be followed in the case. My goal was to demonstrate that I was a caring human being, rather than a demon from hell, and open a channel of communication should they wish to contact me.

I regarded these efforts to be a very important part of my job and I sense that Philip’s lawyer shares my belief.

Malisha inspired me to write this post when she made the following comment about the statement:

The attorney seems to me to be top-drawer! What an eloquent and appropriate statement the mom issued! This is how people caught in horrible circumstances can sometimes act — it shows courage under stress and a kind of elegant humility. My sympathy goes out to this woman. OMG, just imagine a family member is arrested for this kind of crime, there you are, what do you say? Unthinkable.

I wrote the following response to Malisha and decided to turn it into a new post instead. This is what I wrote;


I agree with your comment. She’s a public defender, which just goes to show that there are good ones. She stood there next to Philip during the initial appearance with her hand resting on his back. A simple gesture like that is not only a way of reassuring the client that you care about him, it’s a way of demonstrating to the court and the national audience watching the hearing that he is a human being and not a monster. Little gestures like that communicate in a manner that mere words can never match.

The relationship between Denise Regan and Philip Chism is quite different from Mark O’Mara’s relationship with George Zimmerman. O’Mara’s body language demonstrated that Zimmerman was nothing more than a vehicle to fame and fortune for him. He placed Don West between him and Zimmerman and he had the woman lawyer from his office sitting on the far side of Zimmerman throughout the trial carrying out her role as Zimmerman’s designated baby sitter. She never appeared to be very happy about her role as babysitter. She probably spent most of her time wondering why she had sacrificed three years of her life and incurred considerable debt to get a law degree and pass the bar exam just to be a baby sitter and look pretty at counsel table

O’Mara was too full of himself to be bothered with interacting with his client except when absolutely necessary and that speaks volumes about the kind of person that he is.

I noticed that the woman lawyer who represented Jodi Arias in the penalty phase began her closing argument standing behind Ms. Arias with her hands on Ms. Arias shoulders. I thought she did a splendid job of letting the jury know that she cared about her as a human being, despite what she had done, and I think that her demonstration of genuine concern probably played a significant role in persuading several jurors to reject the death penalty.

I think women are much better at feeling and expressing empathy than men.

I have heard jurors say,

We wanted to sentence your client to death but in the end we could not do it because of what that would have done to you.

Please remember that a lot of public defenders are outstanding lawyers who chose to be public defenders because they genuinely care about their clients. Like teachers and nurses, they are not in it for the money. Ironically, Colleen Ritzer appears to have been driven by her desire to teach.

I was one of them.

They are my tribe.

8 Responses to I was a public defender. They are my people and I will always belong to their tribe

  1. mandy says:

    I picked up on all of the same attorney body language that you described. My only disagreement might be the motbe for Zimmerman’s attorney being money
    I just think he didn’t like Zimmerman and just wanted to get the job done
    Also, on nurses, they generally aren’t the healthiest of people. Their motive is usually care-taking but from a co-dependent drive

  2. pat deadder says:

    I’m sorry to say I lumped all Public Defenders together as incompetent or corrupt.This is obviously not true and it was a shame to do this..Are most Public Defenders overworked or is this also an incorrect assumption on my part.

  3. bettykath says:

    ot If you aren’t depressed enough, look at this

  4. bettykath says:

    Some public defenders do a good job. Some have such a big workload that it’s difficult to do a good job. And some are either incompetent or corrupt.

    ot but knowing your interest in bikes


  5. Malisha says:

    I have seen both kinds of public defenders. Some good friends of mine are federal public defenders, who appear to be among the best. But then there was a public defender in Montgomery County MD who tricked a woman who was beaten up by her husband into pleading guilty of assault! When I got a pro bono lawyer to take her appeal, that lawyer subpoenaed the police file and found the man’s own daughter (step-daughter to the defendant) had told the police the truth and they wrote it down! She said, verbatim: “Daddy was beating Anne-Marie; he used to beat her up a lot and she told him not to or she would hit back so that day he beat her up and she hit back. The she ran away with Pierre. Daddy told me to get him a knife and he cut his leg for blood. I was scared.” So she got reversed on appeal but we’re STILL spending money ten years later getting it expunged so she can get a nursing license!

    Then I saw a public defender in Harford County MD actually arrange for his own client to get beaten up in the jail so she would stop making complaints about the charges; he was replaced and advised the lawyer replacing him (at great cost to the defendant’s friends, including me) to waive the preliminary hearing because the woman used to be handcuffed and thrown around on the way to court; because of the lack of a prelim she was jailed for 13 months in solitary awaiting a trial that never happened because there was no case no evidence and no witness against her. They were just trying to force her into a plea to get out of jail for “time served” so they could avoid being sued for false arrest, and the public defender was part of it.

    We never know what motivates these people. I always say that when somebody is TOO incompetent, you are not really seeing incompetence, you are seeing corruption.

  6. Dudley Sharp says:

    What would you say to this?

    How grotesque can defense cousel be?
    Dudley Sharp

    Defense attorney Thomas Ullmann defended Steven Hayes in the capital murder trial of the three rape/torture/murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, who was raped and strangled to death, along with her two daughters, 17-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Michaela. Michaela was sexually assaulted. Both girls were burned alive and died of smoke inhalation. Dr. Bill Petit was beaten with a baseball bat, suffers permanent injuries, but survived. He is the sole survivor from his immediate family.

    When the day came for sentencing Hayes to death, what did Ullman say?

    “Today when the court sentences Steven Hayes to death everyone becomes a killer. We all become Steven Hayes.” (1)

    Ullman said that with Bill Petit and the extended Hawke/Petit family, loved ones and friends in the courtroom. Ullman called all of them Steven Hayes, as well as all others who find the death penalty a just and appropriate punishment for horrendous crimes.

    The moral decay of Ullman’s statement is hard to fathom, as is the profound cruelty of when and where he voiced it.

    Even Steven Hayes voiced knowing the moral differences between guilty murderer and innocent victims, the punishment of the guilty and the violation of the innocent.

    (1) “Connecticut man gets the death penalty for home invasion killings”,

    • I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases, but I would never say what that lawyer said because it is so disrespectful of their legitimate grief.

      • mandy says:

        I used to be pro death penalty but now I am against it in all cases BUT NOT because I’d feel like a killer. I’m against it because of how it’s used for political games and for extortion to get a plea and because way too many innocent people have received the death penalty and because I think it’s more of a punishment to sentance a person to life in prison with NO possibility of parole. Let them think about their crime for their entire life. I think what that defense attorney said was idiotic and if I were a juror I would have said that to the media.

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