Many times, friends asked Pete Partee why he chose to represent parties who appeared to be guilty, sometimes of heinous crimes. He usually gave the short answer: "If I don't, who will?"
He was a public defender for nearly half a century--starting in 1969.
"'You don't get flowers and candy when you're the public defender,' Partee says of a job that often put him at odds with the general public. 'The public defender's job is a real ministry.'
Partee admits it was usually difficult to avoid getting emotionally involved in the work. Sometimes he didn't try to avoid it. He couldn't help getting nervous on the eve of a big trial, and during those trials he'd replay every testimony in his mind while trying to get to sleep.
'You get a letter one day telling you they want to kill your client,' Partee says, referring in general to the cases where the prosecution seeks the death penalty. 'Someone once asked me if every case I took was important. I knew that to my clients, it was usually the most important case they ever had.'"