Rock On Howard...

I am so loving Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein. First the no meet and plead plan and now this:

Howard and Chiles
"In a fiery letter to judges this week, Finkelstein charged that defendants who can afford to hire a private attorney get their cases heard first in some courtrooms while the poor with public defenders must wait. (Exactly--welcome to my world...)

'A judge's practice of calling public-defender cases last signifies to our clients that the judge sees them as less important than private attorney clients and that their lawyer is not respected,' Finkelstein wrote. 'Routinely pushing my clients to the back of the bus is unacceptable.'

It's Finkelstein's warning about the state Code of Judicial Conduct that has judges in an uproar. In the letter, Finkelstein noted that the code requires judges to avoid the appearance of prejudice based on socioeconomic status. Judges who violate the code can be removed from office. Some judges are interpreting Finkelstein's mention of the code as a thinly veiled threat to file complaints against them, says Broward's Chief Judge Dale Ross.

Even before the letter, Finkelstein had the judges upset because his office filed a complaint last month against Circuit Judge Leonard Feiner. The complaint accuses Feiner of making biased statements about the courthouse's Haitian cleaning crew for moving his phone, coffee mug and desk supplies on his courtroom bench. "

Go Howard!


Tom McKenna said...

As a prosecutor, I hesitate to step into a mess between "real" lawyers and PDs, but when I prosecuted in a jurisdiction where we had PDs and hired lawyers, the judges would tend to encourage us to call the private lawyers' cases first (we called the order of the docket, as I do in my current jurisdiction).

The reason? Certainly not to convey disrespect to any PD or to reflect some kind of class bias.

It was simply this: retained lawyers have other clients in other courts in other jurisdictions and usually need to be in those other courts the same morning/afternoon.

The judges, who talk to other judges, know this and tend to try to get the attorneys on their way so other courts are not left waiting for them. This is simply a practice of professional courtesy. The PDs in a jurisdiction don't need to go to another court in a neighboring jurisdiction, so they can afford to wait.

Someone has to go first and someone has to go last, and the judges are taking a big-picture view of things. Unfortunately, this PD seems a little over-senstive and a little too quick to find offense where there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the judges' actions.

Not as sexy as class warfare, though.

Indefensible said...

Don't assume it's a system in which PD's are assigned to courtrooms. That's certainly not the case here, nor in many other jurisdictions. It's not unusual for me to have 8 courtrooms to visit in a single day--far more than most private lawyers who simply don't deal with the volume that we public defenders do.

Nice of you to defend the judges, but at least here in the Bronx, private lawyer preference is pervasive and (as some will quietly admit) all about money. The private lawyers account for the vast majority of re-election cash.

Tom McKenna said...

Fair enough... having grown up in NYC and even lived a year in the Bronx (God help me) I would believe almost anything bad about the place. I do know the cronyism with judges is horrific, unlike in Virginia where judges are appointed by the General Assembly-- still political, but not as directly slimy as having judges openly running for office.

Anonymous said...

In my part of Florida the PD's are assigned to a particular courtroom for all day, everyday. Because all dockets are cattle called for the same time and it is a first come first served, sign up situation, the private lawyers have to be in 3 places at once. It is as Tom said, no disrespect intended.

Bill said...

Retained counsel also charge by the hour, in many instances, which would mean that disposing of their matters first would be a kindness to the pocketbooks of those defendants.

But I think you are right about the real reason-- in any county I have appeared in the home team always has the edge, and that always means the guys who are on the fund raising committees.

Anonymous said...

As a PD, I don't mind being at the end of the docket when the courtroom is empty. There are times when both the judge and prosecutor will be much more lenient in sentencing or plea agreements, knowing that the court will be empty when they are entered.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon above, there are serious advantages of going late. I am a PD in the northeast. I am primarily assigned to one court room but might have to hit 4-6 for cattle calls.

Private bar first, in practice means I get to come in late for most judges who understand I understand the system, it means I check in and leave and go get coffee and croissants with the other PDS and
senior prosecutors, it means also, if I haven't had the ability to meet with the client (meet and greet at arraignment still happens here as sometime you are sometimes assigned the file in the morning of the case). I know PD's who, understanding the system have formally worked out 11 am show-up times with the judges and the boss thinks they are there at normal cattle call time.

Finally, at least here, private bar has to "earn" their way up to the front of the line, attorneys under 40 generally go after the PDs.

That Lawyer Dude said...

In my main juridiction (the same one your collegue Ms. Steinberg practiced in), we had Legal aid parts and non legal aid parts. In the LAS part we would come in for the roll call then go and meet with clients while private counsel would conference their cases. In the afternoon we would go to the non LAS part and have first crack. I liked going last and working in an empty courtroom. I think the only time money or political clout comes into it is in deciding which private lawyer is going to go before the other. LAS and their clients status isn't in my opinion even considered. As I practice in both NY (including the Bronx) and LI I can tell you there is a big difference David between having to be in 8 different parts of the same complex and 3 different parts of courts in 2 or three different counties.