Sunday, September 24, 2006


By Kendra Cooper, 3L

David Feige spoke Wednesday in MSL's Old Courtroom about his experiences as a public defender in the Bronx. For over fifteen years, Feige represented defendants who ran the gamut--from homicides to petty theft and shoplifting. His book, "Indefensible," describes one day in his life, replete with colorful detail of the wide range of clients he encountered.

Before he entertained questions from the audience, Feige read a passage from his book in which he explains how it is that innocent people plead guilty. He describes defendants desperate to escape a tormenting legal system that is designed to wear people down. As a seemingly interminable time passes, spanning months or years, clients wait to clear their names. Sometimes these defendants are incarcerated for the duration, or free on bail they and their families could least afford. These clients miss work, often losing their jobs, while little progress is made on their cases. Over time, the fight for one's innocence takes on a grey hue, truth no longer a black and white issue, as the financial and emotional toll on the client and family increases, and the process drags on.

Feige describes one client who, in frustration, jumped over a subway turnstile when its mechanism accepted his payment but refused to allow him to pass. Transit police arrested the hapless soul, charging him with larceny. After a year of multiple, time-consuming court appearances, the client pleaded guilty...just to get out of the legal morass.

Feige urged MSL students to seriously consider starting their careers in public defense, before students become enamored with or dependant upon higher incomes found in other areas of law practice. While public defender salaries do not rival those of some private firms, Feige believes the rewards are great.

No longer a NY public defender, Feige writes and occasionally appears as an expert on Court TV. Even if public defense is not on your radar screen, "Indefensible" is a must read for a realistic perspective on the legal system. Two thumbs up!

(Lest anyone think the problems Feige describes are only found in New York, go Monday mornings to the Middlesex District Courthouse in Cambridge and listen to the motley array of arraignments. Just change the names, to protect the guilty...and the innocent.)


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