I just found out that the Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio has written a review of INDEFENSIBLE. I post it here because, well, it's the kind of review that makes me feel like the book said what I wanted it to say and did what I wanted it to do--(that being among other things) to inspire a few in our wonderful army of righteous lawyers to keep on battling for justice.
Jeff Gamso--Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio
This isn't the usual sort of post, but David Feige's book, Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Informo of American Justice, isn't the usual sort of book.
Feige was the trial chief at the Bronx Defenders - the Public Defender office in the Bronx, N.Y. The book tells the story of one, fifteen-hour day on the job, fleshed out with story after story of what actually happens in the criminal courts. He doesn't pull punches, and he names names of actual judges and prosecutors (and might well be severely disciplined for violating the Mark Gardner rule were he in Ohio).
Feige was the lawyer so many of us who do the work because we believe in it and care about the clients wish we were: smart, articulate, wise, dedicated, gutsy, and more successful than he had any right to be. But even with all that, he too often processes cases rather than working them. And he is victimized by mindless (and often cruel) prosecutors, venal judges, and a system of unrelenting and crushing horror. The book is about all of that (and about the few good judges and decent prosecutors, I should add). It's about dealing with the horror and the pain and the clients and the courts and the prosecutors and the cops and the corrections officers and the ghetto itself. It's about the cases. It's about all that and how you deal with it and then get up and go back to work the next day. It's about the anger. And the love. And it's about the small group of dedicated lawyers and investigators with whom Feige worked.
When one of them threatens to crumble, it provides an occasion to discuss burnout:
"Burnout is stealthy. It rarely arrives with the bang of revelation; rather it's the creeping suspicion that maybe everyone around you is right -- your clients really are scum, the sytem really is completely broken, and you can't really touch anyone's life anyway. It is the sneaking sense of futility that undermines your resilience, that makes you unable to wake up the morning after a defeat, ready to fight twice as hard. Burnout sets in when outrage ends. It happens over time, and it hastens with every cataclysmic conviction. My personal theory is that most public defenders can't survive much more than three of these before they start to fry.
"The ones we plead guilty don't count. Neither does the incarceration of clients we care about -- that stuff happens every day, and if we only had three of those in us, we'd last about a week in the work."
Anger, love, righteous indignation. Guilty clients and innocent (or sort-of innocent) ones. Feige's is the truth we all know and live with a measure of honesty and decency and inspiration. And if that doesn't help you get up in the morning and go to work, I don't know what will.
Jeffrey M. Gamso
ACLU of Ohio
4506 Chester Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44103