Matt Shirk, You Are the Weakest Link.

 Posted on November 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

From The Agitator and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina criminal-defense lawyer Bobby Frederick (if I ever get tossed in jail in South Carolina, I'm calling Bobby Frederick to bust me out): Jacksonville, Florida public "defender" Matt Shirk, elected to be tough on crime ("His campaign promises included a vow not to oppose funding cuts to the office he was running for, and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for the postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment"), fires ten lawyers, including those who secured a acquittal for a youth charged with robbery and murder in a case that the Sheriff's department had bungled.

The firings came eight years to the day after the acquittal. Maybe the timing is mere coincidence. Or maybe not. Here's one of the fired lawyers:

Mr. Shirk was supported by the Fraternal Order of Police and made certain representations to them, as I understand, that there would not be questions raised about integrity of policemen.

Since the public defender is actually a lawyer, and actually represents the accused (as VM might have written), he has a duty to effectively represent them (which often means raising questions about the integrity of policemen), as well as a duty to advance their interests (which probably doesn't include "squeezing as much money as possible out of them"). In light of this, I hope we see bar grievances, disbarment, and disgrace in Mr. Shirk's future.

The job of criminal-defense lawyer is antidemocratic. Here's the takeaway: we don't let the electorate choose criminal defense attorneys for our brothers, or our wives; we shouldn't let them choose the lawyers for poor people.

Criminal defense lawyers should be as far removed from the pressures of public opinion as possible. Letting fear-besotted voters choose who represents people accused of crimes (as they do, according to Wikipedia, in Florida, Tennessee, Lincoln, Nebraska, and San Francisco [edit: Dennis Roberts informs me that San Francisco's elected PD is excellent]), has, as Mr. Shirk demonstrates, tremendous potential as a really bad idea.

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