During my first few days working in the office, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity present among the attorneys. While I don’t know the actual headcount, I would say that the public defenders office has a good representation of racial minorities, though most or all of these minorities are African American. In addition to racial diversity, the office also has a fair number of female attorneys, my supervisor being one of them. However, I have noticed that most attorneys who work in juvenile court cases involving abuse and neglect or felonies and misdemeanors are mostly women. On the other side, attorneys who deal with adult cases are for the most part mostly men. I wish more women would join in on these adult cases and more men would feel inclined to protect these juveniles. Fortunately, reading through these discussion posts for the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten the vibe that a few of these women will attempt to break this pattern. This pattern is often present in the office when
Onto the next topic, I haven’t noticed any type of discrimination whatsoever. Ann Arbor is a largely liberal town, so I wasn’t really expecting for discriminatory acts to be in place in the office. However, my supervisor has told me that when she started her job at the public defenders office a few years ago, she faced a lot of trouble whenever she spoke to one of the court judges. This wasn’t a race or gender issue (both are women, judge respects all colors), but rather a seniority issue, I suppose. The judge often wouldn’t look at my supervisor when she approached the bench or in other meetings with her. She believes this was because my then-newbie supervisor had to earn the judge’s respect and show she can do her job well before the judge gave her any serious attention. I was really put off by this, since I was taught to show respect to any person I speak to, no matter our circumstances. But I do understand that this judge has to be careful about who she can rely on for presenting the utmost well founded information for serious court cases.
As my time working at the public defenders office comes to a close, I had to some time to reflect over what I will be taking away from the experiences I’ve had here. While I’m not a law student (yet) and couldn’t go on the record and give legal advice to clients, I spent my time here quite effectively, considering the fact that I’m an undergrad. A lesson that I have gained from working here is that having compassion is a large component to doing your job well in the PD office. For many of the juvenile cases I’ve dealt with, it would have been very easy to just simply charge them with a crime and move on to the next kid. But the attorneys as Washtenaw County spend a majority of their time speaking to clients and finding alternatives for placing them in the youth center (their version of juvie). These attorneys show strong compassion towards these juveniles. They’re able to see that these kids have the right to another chance in improving their lives, whether it be through therapy, family meetings, or simply attending sports camp to stay out of trouble.
However, the same may not always be true for judges. While the judge must look out for the kid’s best interests, they must also look out for what’s best for society. So if a juvenile shows to be a threat to the outside world, they will most likely be sent to the youth center as a resident. Most judges are highly objective about decisions made in court, something that is necessary in order to uphold the law in the most effective manner. There may be a few instances where a judge will have to show sensitivity towards an offender. In an example I’ve given before, an emotionally unstable transgender teen was being continuously bashed by the father, which seemed to have disheartened the teen, and so the judge asked the father one more time to quiet down. When the father refused to do so, the judge took the liberty to hang the phone up on him and proceeded with the court hearing without the father. Seeing that the teen became dejected by what the father had to say, the judge attempted to alleviate the teen’s emotional aches by getting rid of the father.