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Community

Plain and Simple for April 11, 2013

SoVaNow.com / April 11, 2013
When I was finishing my dissertation at Baylor University - Go Bears! - I worked in the library as the night manager at the Circulation Desk. We closed the library at 1 a.m. most nights and it was the policy to stop checking out books ten minutes before that time so that we could close down the computer. It was possible to hand check-out books but it was a bother and if you started doing that, you would have a long line of people to deal with and you would never get home. On rare occasions, we would listen to a good sob story and take a student behind the screen and give them their books after the closing times.

The point is that we heard some amazing stories about why they needed their books right then and there. They could not come back at 8 a.m. the next morning to get them because their term paper was due the next morning. We saw tears and we heard some angry threats. After a while, you got to the point where you looked at a person and knew that you were not going to bend the rules for them.

But that was a problem, too. I had a couple of instances where I faced a person pleading their case and my heart had hardened in advance and then I suddenly felt it melt. I realized that I was not looking at a person, I was prejudging a thing. It is so easy to turn into something you think you will never become. You think that you are a fair and open person and then you find yourself having already made up your mind long before you have listened to one word the other person said.

I admit that this is a pretty mundane example but I am reminded of this whenever I go to someone and try to plead my case and I look into their eyes. It might be at the DMV or when I am trying to correct a bill or talk to an insurance agent. It might be at the doctor’s office, may the good Lord help us. But you see that look and you know that you can stand there until Jesus comes and they will not really hear you. It is not a good feeling.

Now think about how it would feel if you or a loved one had that feeling in a court of law. It is so easy to assume that someone who is charged with a crime is guilty. We assume that the newspapers get the stories correct all the time. Today, 80 percent of criminal defendants are served by public defenders. Those defenders handle case loads such as the six misdemeanor attorneys in Knox County, Tenn., who, in 2006 handled 10,000 cases, averaging one hour per case. In Miami, the case loads jumped in three years from an average of 367 felonies to 500 and an average of 1,380 misdemeanors to 2,225. This story is repeated across the nation. It amounts to indifference to a mandate from the Supreme Court of the United States to provide an attorney for anyone unable to afford one. If we or a loved one ever faced a judge or a jury with an incompetent attorney or one so overworked that he or she could not provide competent counsel, we would be outraged.



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