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Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice Hardcover – June 3, 2006
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
This tragicomic exposé is a roller-coaster ride through the world of justice in the South Bronx. Former trial chief of the Bronx Defenders, Feige takes us through a typically harrowing day as a public defender, dealing with arbitrary judges and clients who are often victims of the judicial system. By a combination of skill and stealth, Feige negotiates the best deal he can get for his clients. In Feige's account, the power of judges—many of whom, he says, are political hacks—triumphs over almost everything else. One judge demanded that all Jews be removed from jury selection because they wouldn't be able to be present on Yom Kippur. To keep up with 75–100 cases at a time. Feige "reinvents" the rules so he can race from one court building to another. We follow the fortunes of dozens of cases, from the ridiculous (Michael, jailed for simply walking a friend's unvaccinated dog) to the tragic ( Jaron, charged with stabbing his cousin). But it's the failure of the system to free the innocent that haunts the author. In this dramatic first book, Feige skillfully shares his wisdom and his humanity and sheds light on a justice system that too often works irrationally. (June 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In an ordinary day in the life of this South Bronx public defender, readers encounter a range of people and circumstances that reflects a comedy of errors, except that the outcomes are hardly amusing and profoundly impact the life--or death--of the defendants. Feige brings an insider's perspective as he dares to humanize criminals and to criminalize law enforcement when it is deserved. With the staggering number of cases, shortage of personnel, and apparent caste and class differences inherent in our criminal justice system, this foray into the public defender's office throws a harsh light on the criminal justice system. With a style that combines black comedy with the drama of a thriller, Feige provokes a debate about the shortcomings of our justice system and the overarching disregard for the underclass that is evident in that system. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I have personally met David, and his warmth and his passion are as intense as his good intentions.
To those who might suggest that David Feige, or I, in our quest to understand behavior without judging it, are naively enabling criminals and unconcerned about victims, I say: you missed the point.
It's all about client and time management. Public defenders often have a client load of between 75 and 120 cases. ADAs have a very different perspective because they are case centered rather than client centered so they can practice a zone offense. The public defender has to be with his/her client so he might be in seven or 10 courtrooms during the day, juggling phone calls meetings, and other duties while an ADA (who probably knows nothing of the case - often an advantage for the defense) tries to handle whatever case comes up in whatever courtroom he/she (enough of this he/she stuff - if I use he, assume s/he) might have been assigned to.
The client every defense attorney has nightmares regarding is the innocent one. No one wants to defend an innocent client, yet those are the ones who mostly likely wind up going to trial. The guilty have everything to gain by accepting a plea -- pleas are the grease that keep the wheels of justice (hah!) from seizing up entirely. If an innocent person is found guilty, not an infrequent occurrence given that the deck is so heavily stacked against them, the defense attorney suffers through extraordinary self-examination, i.e., what could he have done better? What mistakes might he have made. "Defending the guilty is easy. . . The responsibility for the innocent can simply be too much. Sometimes it's better not even to wonder."
It's interesting how the system is often used by lawyers and clients to simple find a place to exist. One homeless fellow would arrange to be charged with beating out on a restaurant tab in order to plead guilty to a minor theft charge and he always insisted on not accepting a plea and getting locked up for the winter months. Everyone knew what was going on. He had no money, no place to live and the entire system conspired to put him in jail for the winter. In another case, Cassandra, suffering from multiple mental issues, unable to afford drugs that helped to stabilize her condition, unable to qualify for any program, was helped back to jail by Feige so that she could obtain some of the medications she needed.
Having a black face always means being treated differently. Big gangsters like Giotti et al strike the fancy of the media and public. The "ordinary" criminal rarely receives any kind of redemptive opportunity. "Fundamentalist Christians constantly speak passionately about seeing the possibility of redemption in everyone, and no one bats an eye. But make this same point in the secular context of the criminal justice system, and rather than praiseworthy piety it is heard as liberal gibberish."
Learning to read judges is an important skill. Many of the judges are political hacks -- "overwhelmingly white, politically connected former prosecutors, they terrorized both defendants and the lawyers who appeared before them, meting out justice that was informed more by the code of the streets than by any legislation." They have extraordinary power and many use it to bully.
The Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. That's a joke. Those charged who have no money for bail often must spend as long as 12-15 months at Rikers Island in New York in a series of delays and motions before a trial can begin. So much for the presumption of innocence.
Of course, if you are rich, it's a whole different ball game.
An important hard-to-put-down book.
:Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse.
But all that aside, he presents a very personal and interesting look into the life of a public defender in New York (and probably most any large city.