Praise the Lord and Pass the Witness

 Posted on October 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

[Begin willing suspension of disbelief.]

As I've said more than once, the government and the free market are failing to provide competent criminal-defense services to the working poor.

And so the church steps in: Well of the Oath Legal Clinic of Irving, Texas is a faith-based nonprofit organization providing legal services (through second-year lawyer Craig Randall Novak) to people making less than 250% of the Federal poverty guideline (so $27,075 for an individual or $45,775 for a family of three).

The representation is not entirely free, of course:

Furthermore, we will discuss with you your becoming or being an active part of a church body. We do not make exceptions to this policy. We believe that the Lord can not only change your life in your legal matters, but wants to heal you, and be with you through this difficult process. We will be glad to recommend to you, if you do not have a church family, one of our church partners.

This is an excellent role for a church: fighting social injustice by providing for the needs of those who would otherwise fall between the cracks. And if the church limits its clientele to those who share an invisible friend, so much the better.

[End willing suspension of disbelief.]

But if you accept free legal help, there's no assurance that you'll get competent representation. I am not confident that anyone choosing Well of the Oath would do better than he would with a low-bid letter lawyer. (Arguably, the free lawyer doesn't even have to do as well as the cheap lawyer, but he does have to do better than the client would pro se.)

Eighteen months is not a lot of experience in criminal law (especially when the criminal law is mixed with immigration law and landlord-tenant law and family law); it isn't enough experience for all of the sorts of cases that Novak is willing to take (including sex offenses, but only if he is "completely convinced that you are wrongly charged").

Further, if Mr. Novak were to take on too many cases, all of his clients would suffer regardless of his base competency.

On the other hand, there's got to be some happiness inherent in having God on your side, and if Mr. Novak were to screw up a case out of inexperience or overburden, well, that'd be God's will, wouldn't it?

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