Criminal lawyers defend those charged with crimes, while lawyer criminals are people with law degrees who commit crimes. People often confuse the two, understandably so. After all, what kind of a man would use all his skills defending people who are guilty of the most disgusting, repulsive crimes imaginable? I’ve never understood that myself.
Starting my law practice, I not only was a public defender in the federal court in Alaska, a little later I was also appointed to represent defendants in state court as well. This was when the state Public Defender’s Office had a conflict of interest, and I made $35 an hour doing state work. That was close to a fair rate of $50 an hour, and when I kept track of the time I spent on a case I was reasonably generous to myself. As long as I wasn’t a pig about it no one really cared, so I liked getting these appointments. Even a lawyer has to make a living to support his family, for Pete’s sake.
Some of these defendants were truly despicable, but I never had to take any of those cases to trial. The evidence was so overwhelming that I always convinced them to plead guilty and throw themselves on the mercy of the court.
That meant I had to argue for leniency in the sentence, and even that was sometimes difficult to do. One miserable little bastard was guilty of first degree arson, and, try as I might, I couldn’t think of one reason why the judge shouldn’t throw the book at him. The judge asked me if there was any reason whatsoever for a reduced sentence, and all I could say was , “Well, your honor, he is young.”
The most appalling criminal I was appointed to defend was a young Alaska Native from Valdez charged with kidnapping. The young gal who worked alone at night at the Valdez Police station, dispatching officers in the field, was forced at knife point by this kid into his car. He drove off with her, and, fearing for her life, she jumped out of the speeding vehicle, tearing off both of her knee caps.
The first time I appeared in court to represent this kid the family of the victim was there, and to this day I can remember the look of contempt in their eyes as they looked at me. I didn’t blame them one bit.
I’d read somewhere that if a criminal defendant wrote out their life story, there might be something in there which could be used at sentencing.
So this kid went to work, and wrote out an account of his life. I could barely read it, it was so disgusting. This kid had the most evil, twisted mind I’d ever seen.
The judge gave him 30 years, a very heavy sentence. As his lawyer, I could have appealed this as excessive, and I may have had a legal duty to do so.
But I couldn’t do it. The way that girl’s family looked at me made me too ashamed.