Friday, March 4, 2016

A the Public Defender? 
“I only charge guilty people, Dave” I’d say, a little tongue in cheek.  While I simultaneously believe and strive for that statement to be true, I'd mostly say it to needle him.  “Exactly what I expect a soulless Persecutor to say!” went the snarky reply.  This exchange happened in just about every conversation I had with Dave.  We both knew the other sort of meant it, but we both said it in good humor as a sort of “tip of the hat” to our stereotypical roles and expected attitudes toward the criminal justice system we both served. 

Dave passed away on Monday.

I was a brand new assistant prosecutor when I met Dave.  We were covering the Misdemeanor docket together.  It was the best/worst mashup of reality TV you can imagine.  Jerry Springer meets Family Feud with a little bit of Judge Judy thrown in to remind us that we were, after all, in a courtroom.  Dave had a wild mane of hair, which he clearly hadn’t seen since morning, a beard that he beat in to submission at least twice per year, and carried a briefcase that looked like it had been in great distress since the Hoover administration.  He had a gravelly smoker’s voice that carried a wry, dry wit perfectly.  It often took me a minute to tell if he was giving me the usual ration of crap, or if he really was ticked about something.  Either way, we’d both be in our seats well before the docket.  He’d dutifully look for his clients, ask me for my offer in the case, tell me it was outrageous, talk to his client and move on to the next one.  Often he might swing back by and give me a tidbit of information to see if that might move the offer.  Sometimes it did.  The wheels of justice ground away.

Though I’d had a taste of being on that side of the “v.”, I learned a lot just by watching him work.  A satchel stuffed with files, jail visits, conversations with the defendants, conversations with the families…on and on it goes.  I also learned that I didn’t always have the whole story.  More than once we’d have a case set for trial, and he would reveal that he had some “secret strategy” that might just get his guy off.  Though I don’t think it really ever worked out that way (as I recall), he made me a better attorney as I turned my case file upside down trying to figure out how he was going to beat me.  I also learned that some complaints flowed from him as defense attorney mantras…”DISCOVERY!” was the battle cry.   I wondered sometimes if he thought saying it three times would make me dismiss the case.  Usually, I would just give him a snarky reply about the secret discovery we kept in a blast proof bunker under the courthouse for trial emergencies.  He knew I was kidding, but I suspect he wondered.  There isn’t one.  Really.

We didn’t hang out after work.  We didn’t win each other over in terms of politics, viewpoints, case results or haircuts.  He did his job, and I did mine.  That’s what made the system work.  It was Wile E. Coyote and the Sheepdog.  Clock in; beat on each other; clock out.  It wasn’t personal.  Usually. 

Though some may have had different experiences with Dave, these were mine.  He was a dedicated professional who truly believed in his role in the system.  If I was going to successfully put someone in jail, he was going to make sure, to the best of his ability, that the State had done everything right.  That is as it should be.  Criminal defendants in Kansas City lost a strong voice on Monday…

…but Dave, since I get the last word, don't worry.  I only charge guilty people.  Guilty, guilty, guilty.

My prayers are with his family and colleagues.