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human & civil rights | prisons & prisoners


Do you know your rights?
Do you understand what a grand jury is and how it is used against activists?
As government repression increases, so does the use of racial profiling, FBI
visits, and federal grand juries to intimidate, imprison and destroy
communities and social justice movements.

Grand jury investigations have recently been used to harass and jail people from
the Black liberation, animal liberation, and environmental justice movements in
San Francisco and San Diego. FBI intimidation is being used to crush dissent
and attack Muslim, Arab, Iranian, and South Asian communities, creating fear
and racial hysteria.

Learn what you can do to protect yourself and your community!

Grand Jury Road Show Dates:

Friday 10/7/05 at 7pm
Morning Glory Cafe

Saturday 10/8/05 at 7pm
Laughing Horse Books

Monday 10/10/05 at 7pm
Wayward Cafe

Links for more information about grand juries:

Grand Jury Support:  http://www.FBIwitchHunt.com
The National Lawyers Guild:  http://www.nlg.org 212-679-5100 ext.12
Just Cause Law Collective:  http://www.lawcollective.org
No Compromise:  http://www.nocompromise.org (Go to "Issue Archive" #22 fall 03)
Public Pretender on a Soapbox 11.Oct.2005 23:36

Mike Morris mike.morris@metrokc.gov

First, full disclosure: I am a public defender in King County (Seattle), Washington. If I cared a lot about being popular, or wanted to get rich, I'd quit and get another job. Yes, I'm a real lawyer, I went to a real law school, and I passed a real bar exam. I'm used to being asked how I can defend "those people" by supposedly educated individuals in apparent need of a refresher course in junior high Civics. I'm also used to a small percentage of my clients cleverly referring to me as a "public pretender" or asking me if I think they should get "a real lawyer". For my part, I'm not particularly concerned with the opinions of ignorant, over-privileged people who think anyone with too little money and too many problems should be presumed guilty and locked up at the government's whim. And as for some of the people I represent -- well, can they really be blamed for being angry or having serious trust issues?

What does concern me is when I run into people with apparently progressive values, who don't seem to recognize the importance of providing court appointed lawyers to people who can't afford a private attorney. The reason I'm bringing this up here is that I attended last night's "Grand Jury Roadshow" at the Wayward Cafe in Seattle. One of the speakers commented that a friend was locked up after following a public defender's advice to lie to a grand jury. She went on to say that one problem faced by activists with little money is that they typically wind up with a public defender rather than a skilled lawyer.

I'm not commenting to air a personal grievance, but because I think activists concerned about the court system in general -- and public defense in particular -- should be well-informed and consistent, and should advocate effectively for positive change. Activists should be aware that a Federal Public Defender, with a research assistant, a secretary, a paralegal, and a relatively light caseload -- at least compared to most County Public Defenders -- is able to do a much more thorough job on a case than an overloaded, burnt out, court-appointed defender in the rural south who averages a dollar an hour to handle a death penalty case. [as a sidenote, its extremely difficult for me to believe that any federal defender would advise a client to lie in court, let alone before a grand jury -- although many have very conventional politics, they tend at least to be skilled attorneys].

In many states -- like Washington -- the quality of public defense can vary from county to county. Grant County, Washington was recently in the news because of corruption and extremely poor representation by contract public defenders -- that is, private lawyers who contract with the county to provide public defense services. On the other hand, one of the four Seattle public defense agencies has been making real change in the law in recent years with its 'Racial Disparity Project'. Not all public defense agencies are created equal, nor are all public defenders.

Activists should think critically about public defense, and they should educate themselves and take an active --- but not counterproductively antagonistic -- role in their representation. They are right to criticize the Federal Grand Jury system because it requires lone and vulnerable individuals to face the coercive power of the federal government without the benefit of legal counsel. Likewise, activists should criticize widespread underfunding of public defense, and the high caseloads and compromised representaion that result from it. The goal should be adequately funded, high quality public defense, and one way to get that is to place the lion's share of the criticism where it belongs -- with the state and county governments who make the funding decisions. Activists should consider that, if they remain poorly informed, and simply join the chorus of ignorant people who bash public defenders, they risk providing a further excuse to those in government who want to cut public defense budgets and force people without money to go to court without representation.