During Ward & Jones interviews, I often joke that candidates should be automatically disqualified because their willingness to run is a sure sign of a major mental defect. While that’s certainly true, there is something much worse!
Choosing to be a public defender.
The pays sucks, the caseload is absurd, the hours are nuts, the criminal justice system odds are always stacked against you, you’re dealing with the least of our biblical brothers and sisters, and people only take notice when you screw up.
I’ve spent my entire life taking on the kind of folks who’ve done their damndest to make my life miserable in return, and you still couldn’t pay me enough to become a public defender.
And make no mistake, with rare exception, these are topflight attorneys. I can say that because I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a number of Kane County PDs over the years – one of ‘em even co-hosted Ward & Jones a couple of times.
These fine folks could be making three times the money at a law firm or in private practice.
But they do this incredibly difficult job because it’s a calling. They understand there’s a moral value in bringing balance to the justice system force. They like being able to look that bathroom mirror straight in the eye. They look into the eyes of their clients and understand that, there but for the grace of God go I.
Being born into the kind of circumstances most of us simply wouldn’t survive is NOT a sin.
But despite the job being its own reward, there’s something that makes it suck much more than it has to suck. And that something is the arrogance, and often outright disdain, with which the State’s Attorney’s office and Judiciary regularly treat our public defenders.
It’s not necessarily an overt thing either. It’s much more like an unspoken prejudice. But trust me, after covering Kane County court cases for 11 years, it’s there and it’s palpable.
PDs are supposed to defend their clients, but no too zealously. Just make it look good girls! Since they’re County employees who report to the Chief Judge, they’re expected to be team players and not make waves when they lose. And if the State’s Attorney’s office “accidentally” gains access to their privileged emails? So What! Shut up and play along! You weren’t supposed to win that case anyway.
But what really bugs the living shit out of me is, our PDs would not nearly be treated as poorly if their boss was male, and 28 of the 39 attorneys were men. But no! Because that office is 72 percent female, they’re expected to stand there, look pretty, put on a good show, and let the men do the “real work.”
After all, our 16th Circuit judges are 75 percent male and the three top prosecutors are all named Joe. How many times has Jody Gleason been up for replacing a retiring state’s attorney only to be passed over for a male attorney who hasn’t spent a scant day in that Rt. 38 office?
It’s time to give our public defenders the respect and gratitude they clearly deserve. Without their hard work and dedication our court system would be nothing more than a game show where only the wealthy could buy justice. And the fact they’re mostly women should have no bearing on that hard-earned respect and gratitude.
So what do you say Kane County judges and prosecutors?
You know what? I think I just figured out why 75 percent of public defenders are female. Only someone as strong as a woman could handle that job.