When it comes to guaranteeing the protections of the Constitution for citizens accused of crime, Virginia is almost criminal in its lack of attention to the issue ("Cheap Justice," Cover Story, Jan. 10).
More money is needed; however, citizens should never assume that merely because they have court-appointed counsel that the level of representation will suffer because of the money. I personally know several attorneys who, if paid $25,000 or more for a case, are in my estimation totally worthless. I have been to jail six times for contempt in cases where I thought a client's rights were violated. Five were in court-appointed misdemeanor cases. It is not the fee which triggers the professionalism of attorneys.
Without any reservation I will state that there are several public defenders, both past andpresent, who I would consider as some of the best criminal trial lawyers in the city. Some public defenders and court-appointed attorneys are not that good; some are actually bad. The same could be said for retained attorneys, but it is their character and dedication to the law that brings about the difference.
Your article was all the more amazing when I noticed the names of the attorneys interviewed: David Hicks and Tony Spencer. When I think of knowledgeable attorneys in the area of criminal law, the names of Carolyn Grady, Craig Cooley, Chris Collins and those who I read about in the papers, many of whom I know personally and whose performances I see in court, come to mind.
We forget that the life of Ray Dandridge was saved from lethal injection by Claire Cardwell, Cary Bowen and David Lassiter, all court-appointed attorneys smart, innovative and thorough. Where were the interviews with them? The life of John Lee Malvo, one of the Washington, D.C., snipers, was spared through the efforts of his court-appointed lawyers.
Good and honest lawyers want to help their clients, regardless of fee, and bad lawyers do not care, regardless of fee. I have no idea about a lawyer who would rather work at Burger King.
The commonwealth has no right to expect the character of private attorneys to fulfill or enable its obligation to provide constitutional protections to anyone charged under our laws, but for years it has. The system is flawed. We are all fortunate that the sanctity of the oaths taken by attorneys continue to supply some reality to the promises of the Constitution.
To deny or ignore the obligation of this society to provide effective assistance of counsel for all accused is akin to denying the right to vote or the right to free speech. It is un-American and it is an affront to all true lovers of this nation and its ideals.
Fund indigent defense. See that the innocent are set free and that the guilty are convicted and sentenced for what they did and not because they are poor or despised. Recognize the importance of what public defenders and court-appointed attorneys provide. That is what being an American is about, not wearing a flag in your lapel or some ribbon on the trunk of your car.David P. Baugh
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