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Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the…
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Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice

by David Feige

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OK, so I like to watch all the legal shows, "Raising the Bar," "Shark," "Boston Legal," etc. David Feige was a public defender in New York and this book reflects those experiences. Something the book and all the shows have in common is that how you fare in court probably has less to do with guilt or innocence than with the internal politics and enmities of the "professionals" who run the show. I find that disheartening. Never having been in court (knock wood) I couldn't say but Feige has, and the picture painted is not pretty.

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.

See also [b:Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse|107835|Courtroom 302 A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse|Steve Bogira|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171576576s/107835.jpg|103926] ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
4249 Indefensible One Lawyer's Journey Into the Inferno of American Justice, by David Feige (read 22 Dec 2006) This is by a public defender in the Bronx, and since I have a son who is a public defender I wanted to read it. The author says the book is non-fiction, though I suspect he exaggerates some. One has to admire his devotion to his clients. Some of the things he relates in regard to some of the judges he encounters are horrible and incredible. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 28, 2007 |
Sadly, many Americans get their concept of the criminal process through television, where justice is capably dispensed in 60-minute installments. In reality, the criminal justice system is like the adage about hot dogs -- you really don't want to see how they'’re made. And those elbow and knee deep in the muck and mire of the process are the public defenders.

David Feige's Indefensible seeks to take readers inside that process from the eyes of a longtime public defender in the South Bronx. And rather than hot dogs, this system tries, often not well, to produce "some vague facsimile of truth." Feige's truth isn't pretty and his account is often scathing. In fact, at times it reads as if he has more than a few axes to grind.

Using a so-called typical day for a public defender handling murder cases, Feige covers the gamut of the system. We meet the clients, ranging from those charged with murder to a woman who agrees with Feige that she needs to be jailed to get off the street and back on her psychiatric medication to the man accused of walking dogs without proof of their vaccination. We meet other defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges. We see the vagaries of the system and those who comprise it, the system'’s occasional successes and its more numerous delays and failures.

Although the day in the life approach might be a workable vehicle for the author, it hurts the flow. In order to cover all the issues and ground he wants, Feige frequently reflects on older events and cases, blending them into his thoughts during this day'’s docket. While these matters are necessary to an understanding of the whole, it tends to tug the reader here and there. And some areas make those familiar with the law raise their eyebrows. For example, when he has one murder client testify before a grand jury Feige leaves the impression that either he questioned his client in the proceeding (something the law prohibits) or that the prosecuting attorney followed the defense script for the case. Still, there is quite a bit to commend Indefensible.

Balance of review at http://prairieprogressive.com/2006/06/05/book-review-indefensible-2006/
1 vote PrairieProgressive | Sep 24, 2007 |
http://nhw.livejournal.com/724261.html

This is a very good book, in a number of ways, and perhaps it was a mistake of the publishers to market it as a book about the American justice system; it covers so much else. David Feige describes a day in the life of a public defender in the Bronx, where he worked for fifteen years, running from courtroom to courtroom with lengthy interspersed reminiscences about how he got there. The human stories of those who are damaged by the justice system - even those who are eventually acquitted - are described with compassion and occasionally humour. But he even manages to evoke our sympathy for those who are guilty:

"Even after more than a decade in the system, I still fundamentally believe in the possibility of redemption and the value of every individual. I care for my murderous clients... Their shortcomings don't disqualify them from my caring. But somehow, when I try to explain this in the context of my work, I'm met with blank confusion."

Reading this book on the reality of what the law does to people is an unsettling contrast with the glamorisation of cop shows on TV, be it the refined Morse or Dalziel and Pascoe, or even the more gritty but (I suspect) equally unrealistic Hill Street Blues in the old days. The biggest villains are certainly those evil judges whose sentencing is a mockery, and who cannot be reined in - indeed, the only likely effect of public opinion is to make sentencing practice harsher. (One of Feige's clients asks in bewilderment, "Why wouldn't any judge release me if they thought I was innocent? Isn't that what they're supposed to do?") I suspect that the Bronx is much worse off in that respect than anywhere I have ever lived, or am likely to live; but that doesn't detract from the universality of the message. ( )
  nwhyte | Dec 2, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031615623X, Hardcover)

With verve and insider know-how, a young lawyer reveals his outrageous and heartbreaking long day's journey into night court.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:47 -0400)

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