Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice - David Feige OK, so I like to watch all the legal shows, "Raising the Bar," "Shark," "Boston Legal," etc. David Feige was a public defender in New York and this book reflects those experiences. Something the book and all the shows have in common is that how you fare in court probably has less to do with guilt or innocence than with the internal politics and enmities of the "professionals" who run the show. I find that disheartening. Never having been in court (knock wood) I couldn't say but Feige has, and the picture painted is not pretty.

It's all about client and time management. Public defenders often have a client load of between 75 and 120 cases. ADAs have a very different perspective because they are case centered rather than client centered so they can practice a zone offense. The public defender has to be with his/her client so he might be in seven or 10 courtrooms during the day, juggling phone calls meetings, and other duties while an ADA (who probably knows nothing of the case - often an advantage for the defense) tries to handle whatever case comes up in whatever courtroom he/she (enough of this he/she stuff - if I use he, assume s/he) might have been assigned to.

The client every defense attorney has nightmares regarding is the innocent one. No one wants to defend an innocent client, yet those are the ones who mostly likely wind up going to trial. The guilty have everything to gain by accepting a plea -- pleas are the grease that keep the wheels of justice (hah!) from seizing up entirely. If an innocent person is found guilty, not an infrequent occurrence given that the deck is so heavily stacked against them, the defense attorney suffers through extraordinary self-examination, i.e., what could he have done better? What mistakes might he have made. "Defending the guilty is easy. . . The responsibility for the innocent can simply be too much. Sometimes it's better not even to wonder."

It's interesting how the system is often used by lawyers and clients to simple find a place to exist. One homeless fellow would arrange to be charged with beating out on a restaurant tab in order to plead guilty to a minor theft charge and he always insisted on not accepting a plea and getting locked up for the winter months. Everyone knew what was going on. He had no money, no place to live and the entire system conspired to put him in jail for the winter. In another case, Cassandra, suffering from multiple mental issues, unable to afford drugs that helped to stabilize her condition, unable to qualify for any program, was helped back to jail by Feige so that she could obtain some of the medications she needed.

Having a black face always means being treated differently. Big gangsters like Giotti et al strike the fancy of the media and public. The "ordinary" criminal rarely receives any kind of redemptive opportunity. "Fundamentalist Christians constantly speak passionately about seeing the possibility of redemption in everyone, and no one bats an eye. But make this same point in the secular context of the criminal justice system, and rather than praiseworthy piety it is heard as liberal gibberish."

Learning to read judges is an important skill. Many of the judges are political hacks -- "overwhelmingly white, politically connected former prosecutors, they terrorized both defendants and the lawyers who appeared before them, meting out justice that was informed more by the code of the streets than by any legislation." They have extraordinary power and many use it to bully.

The Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. That's a joke. Those charged who have no money for bail often must spend as long as 12-15 months at Rikers Island in New York in a series of delays and motions before a trial can begin. So much for the presumption of innocence.

Of course, if you are rich, it's a whole different ball game.

An important hard-to-put-down book.

See also Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse