Letter to the Editor

Comment is slap in face to public defenders

Sunday, March 26, 2006

By H. Morley Swingle

One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes was his quip to a newsman following a story incorrectly mentioning his death that "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Our local public defenders must have felt a similar reaction when they read the recent article in the Missourian where a bureaucrat from the Missouri State Public Defender System claimed things are so bad for public defenders statewide that the lawyers must resort to delivering pizzas to supplement their income. She described an instance of one poor lawyer (whom she refused to name because he was so crushed) who supposedly delivered a pizza to a client he had represented earlier that same day.

This Chicken Little-urban legend strategy of public relations was clearly designed to whip up hysteria for more money to be sunk into the coffers of the Missouri State Public Defender System.

Unfortunately, the comment about pizza delivery was a slap to the face of the current public defenders working so hard for their clients in Cape Girardeau County.

Chris Davis, Jason Tilley, Jennifer Booth, Amy Metzinger, Jacob Zimmerman, Patricia Tucka, Brandon Sanchez, Leah Garabedian, Sara Castle, Ian Page and Maureen Tilley are all dedicated professionals and hard-working lawyers who do a good job for their clients.

In fact, Leah Garabedian just kicked my tail in her very first jury trial. I'm still licking my wounds.

Not one of them has ever delivered a pizza since passing the bar exam.

In his autobiography, Clarence Darrow recalled his early years as a lawyer: "Now I had a license to practice law, but nobody wanted me to practice on him!"

Working as public defenders or assistant prosecutors is the best way for young lawyers to learn how to evaluate and try criminal cases.

They get so much experience so quickly and become so specialized in criminal law that they generally do a better job for their clients than most private attorneys handling only a few criminal cases per year.

I would feel comfortable having any of the current crew at the public defender's office representing someone in my family.

Frankly, I'd like to see the public defenders get raises. Throw open those floodgates and toss the money at them. My pay scale for assistant prosecutors is based on theirs, and my assistants with comparable experience generally make less than they do, so if they get raises maybe a trickle-down effect will benefit my staff.

H. Morley Swingle is the prosecuting attorney for Cape Girardeau County.