31 May

Life as a public defender (video attached)

People ask me if I miss being a full-time attorney. I don’t. I miss being a public defender. I had a passion for representing my clients, seeing the impact we could potentially have on their lives. The rivalry between the district attorneys and the public defenders was always fun; fun in a, “I’ve got scab that hurts and is getting infected but I can’t stop picking at it” kind of way.

 

I definitely don’t miss the pro-forma motions; frantically trying to keep up with the deadlines because we had so many cases, so many clients, it was nearly impossible to meet all of the demands of the job. Now that I’ve had some distance from the work, I realize we made a difference with our pre-sentencing letters, using our social workers to back up our arguments (and often persuaded the judge and the ADA to see things in favor of our clients); we made a strong case to suppress a gun that was in a trunk or in a backpack in the back seat of a car with four occupants (we were less successful with this tool but did occasionally convince the judge on the law). Many people questioned me, “Why represent criminals?” And my answer was always along the lines of, “I represent people who have been accused of crimes. It is not my job to decide their guilt or innocence. The person arrested could be you or your brother one day. If you happen to be Black or Latino, your chances of being arrested are heightened. The criminal injustice system is stacked against the poor person of color, and I fight against that system.”

My clients told me their story. I listened because their story always helped me figure out how we were going to defend their case. While I was finishing my newest degree last year (yes, I love school), I participated in a storytelling program through a company called Narativ. We had to tell a story. I decided to tell my story of being a young litigator in court where I learned from my clients. I think I should warn, the performance has a few curse words. I hope you enjoy it.

Olga Lucia Torres Story from Narativ Circle on Vimeo.

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