March 20, 2017 – March 18, 2017 marked the second annual Public Defense Day and the 54th Anniversary of the decision in Gideon v. Wainright that gave people throughout the nation the right to have an attorney represent them if they were charged with a criminal offense.
Being a public defender is not an easy job. It requires a lawyer to put their whole heart and soul into representing someone else. It requires that a lawyer be able to take a dry legal topic and infuse it with the life and experience of a client.
Even though public defenders deal with other people’s worst days, they remain an optimistic, driven group of individuals who come back from one set back to face another and another and another. They do this for a variety of reasons. For the public defenders in the Nevada County Public Defender’s Office, the reasons each attorney is a public defender are different but similar, which may be why they strongly unite as a team. In their own words, here are the reasons each of them is a public defender.
Constitutional rights mean nothing if we don’t stand up and assert them for everyone and provide a vigorous defense for the most vulnerable in our society. – David Humphreys, Deputy Public Defender, Truckee
I can’t say it any better than Mr. Stevenson. Being a public defender for me is about knowing that “we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. [And] The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.. . We all need mercy, we all need justice, and —perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” (Bryan A. Stevenson) – Jody Schutz, Deputy Public Defender
We are not defined by our worst day or the worst thing that we have ever done. My goal is to show the entire value of the person that I am given the privilege to represent. – William Dittmann, Assistant Public Defender
I am a defense attorney because I believe the government must be held accountable and kept firmly in check. The rights to a defense, a trial by impartial jury, and access to the advice of counsel are so important they were written directly into the Sixth Amendment of our Constitution. I am a public defender because I believe that ‘but for the grace of God, there go I.’ What if the power of the government stood against my father, or my brother, or my mother, or my child? I would want a strong and sharp defense who cared what happened to that person and treated them and their rights with respect. I strive to be the attorney I would want for my family and to represent my clients to the best of my ability, regardless of what they look like, what they smell like, or what they’ve done. – Hayley Dewey, Deputy Public Defender
Being a public defender means telling the stories of people who have been accused of crimes, and haven’t had the chance to tell their stories. It’s about giving a voice to the voiceless. But first you really have to hear the stories before you can help tell it. – Thomas Angell, Deputy Public Defender
Sometimes I lean on the cog in the machine that grinds up the little people and spits them out long enough to spare someone just a little bit of misery. I run out of breath and the cog drags me under and it all seems pointless until I run into someone who says, with gratitude, “you helped me” or even just “you listened to me.” Then I remember that the hardest things in life to do are often the most worth doing. I remember Proverbs 31:8-9, the Public Defender verse, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy,” and I remember that this job is a calling. – Tamara Zuromskis, Deputy Public Defender
The government has great power to punish. Many people think that people accused of crimes deserve whatever they are handed down. Unfortunately, criminal charging has expanded to acts once considered noncriminal. Alongside that, the threat of punishment forces accused persons to plead in order to avoid harsh consequences. Public Defenders do not see those trends as serving justice. – Micah Pierce, Deputy Public Defender
I like to challenge the system and represent who a person is in a system that tends to focus on a person’s worst deeds. I am truly an enforcer of the Constitution and I fight to make sure that everyone is viewed through the lens of innocence. The job of indigent defense is hard work that is incredibly fulfilling. Every day public defenders walk into court to protect and defend their clients. When the going gets tough, I remember my law school professor and mentor Bernie Segal and his “cloak of innocence”; the guarantee that every person who walks into court accused of a crime is presumed innocent. Each of my clients wears that cloak. It may be tattered and torn but it is my job to try and keep them from being stripped of it. Sometimes I actually succeed. – Keri Klein, Public Defender
If you’d like more information about the Nevada County Public Defender’s Office or National Public Defense Day, please contact Keri Klein at (530) 265-1400