I just don't know what it is about legal journalists reporting on public defenders. They just can't seem to help themselves from being condescending twits. We PD's know full well how the world looks down upon us. We live with families, friends and even clients who assume that we're only doing the work because we couldn't get a better job. But somehow, it continues to rankle when the chattering classes (whom we'd like to think know better) also fall prey to this.
Here's a perfect and egregious example: In today's Legal Times, Tony Mauro writes about Frances Forsman, the federal defender of Nevada who just argued Whorton v. Bockting concerning the retroactivity of Crawford v. Washington . The headline is "SELF-DESCRIBED 'OLD HIPPIE' WINS HIGH PRAISE IN HIGH COURT DEBUT" The entire article is about what a brilliant argument Forsman made. Indeed, despite the fact that, as Mauro notes "Supreme Court justices are notoriously stingy with praise for the lawyers arguing before them." Mauro recounts that "As Foreseman's half hour was about to end, Justice Stevens leaned forward and said, "May I ask you a personal question? Were you a moot court finalist?" Startled, Forsman said she was not. Stevens replied, "I attended a moot court at Notre Dame in about your year and it was an awfully good moot court." The audience laughed, but it was clearly a compliment."
Impressive indeed. So what does Mauro want to know about this impressive advocate (who he notes has also led the Nevada state bar and taught trial advocacy at UNLV's law school?) Well, here's what he sees fit to close his piece with--perhaps the most offensive, demeaning, condescending and obnoxious question he could possibly ask. "Oh no" you may be thinking, "He didn't!" oh yes he did. The one place Mauro injects himself into the piece as posing a question, this is what he asked:
"Has the Stevens compliment resulted in job offers from the private sector yet?"
That's right folks. If you're a public defender, it doesn't actually matter what you do or what you accomplish. Summa Cum Laude from Harvard? (several current Bronx Defenders) Supreme Court Clerk? (a friend who went to PDS) President of your state bar association? (Forsman) Law professor? (lots of us) or Brilliant Supreme Court Advocate? None of it makes any difference to the idiots out there who simply can't grasp that some people might actually want to do the righteous work pf being a public defender for reasons having nothing to do with the money. It just doesn't compute. People still think that PD's are where they are not by choice, but because they just couldn't get a better job.
When is Mauro going to do the breathless profile of the new class of Bronx Defenders most of whom graduated from top law schools and clerked at the Federal Appellate Level who turned down jobs at the highest paying firms in the country to come work in the Bronx? When will it occur to him to write about the lawyers who have left Paul Weiss to join us as PD's? Sadly, probably never.