I’m Gonna Make You a Lawyer
July 14, 2017
Each week I gain more perspective on the role of the public defender in the eyes of their clients. For most, conversations with Katie provide them with clarity on their situation and peace of mind when they have to go back to their cells in lock up. Sometimes they leave the conversation frustrated, given that the information that she gave them puts them often between a rock and a hard place. In these situations they’re either pleading guilty to something they didn’t do in order to get out of custody, or refuse to plea and then stay in custody longer to await trial. In misdemeanor court I’ve rarely seen clients become frustrated directly with Katie, but it does happen. At one point this week we talked to an older man who straight up clasped his hands together in prayer at the sight of Katie coming to speak to him about his case.
In another case, PD’s see some clients so often for petty charges that they have a rapport. After seeing one guy’s name on the call, Katie recognized his name and expressed that he was a bit of a “regular” in Branch 43. He had been arrested again for yelling gang slogans at passersby with a couple of wannabe gang-banger teenagers, and upon seeing him in lock-up, admonished him for being there again but smiling nevertheless, and they both started to laugh. It was as if he was a kid on her block that was notorious for getting into trouble. It was a welcome moment of silliness in a typically austere environment. That same morning on the way out, a couple of prisoners in protected custody (as shown by their yellow jumpsuits) tried to get my attention to ask me a question to which I responded that I couldn’t answer as an intern, etc. to which one of them replied, with his finger in my face, “I’m gonna make you a lawyer!”.
I laughed and relayed this to Barrington, who replied that that guy could probably all but make me a lawyer given how much time he had spent in the system! This is a common theme; for a large portion of the people we see every day it is not their first time in misdemeanor court, or any kind of court. People often walk away before the judge is even done talking because they’ve heard his admonishment so many times.
I got a bit of a closer look at the judge’s perspective during court proceedings during a brief interview I was able to snag with Judge Kuzas. I had to keep it brief, but he gave me a bit of insight into how his career as a police officer and former defense attorney colored his perspective as judge in misdemeanor court. When defendants tell them where they live or where they work he often recognizes the area and takes the circumstances of said neighborhood into account in figuring out the dynamics at play when the crime was committed. He’s also attentive to those with severe mental health issues, and even asked a defendant if he wanted to stay in custody where someone could keep an eye on him when he had the option to go home that day. The defendant was continuously picking up trespassing cases at Mount Sinai because he kept forgetting that he had a new doctor somewhere else to prescribe him his meds. The defendant politely turned down this offer; it seemed to be a conversation they’d had before.
I’m almost halfway through my time here at Branch 43 and at this point I feel settled into the routine. I am ready to take on some new responsibilities as the summer goes on!
Allegra is a sociology major from Chicago, Illinois.