The Constitution in Bo Burk’s Hands

It’s a truism that we get the government we deserve, and that’s proven again by the election of Bo Burk as Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District of Tennessee.  Bo who?


Via Gideon at A Public Defender:

Now, who won the election for Public Defender in the 25th Judicial District?

Yep, it’s pro-death penalty, 7-year prosecutor Bo Burk, who, if you zoom in on the image, touts his membership in the NRA as a plus to be the champion of individual rights for the poor and disenfranchised.

But as if that wasn’t enough, he is also a fiscal conservative who will use all resources available to save taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps since he’s never represented a criminal defendant in his life, he might be confused as to where the government largesse in the criminal justice system comes from: it is from over-criminalization and vindictive prosecutions, excessive prison sentences and lengthy terms of probation.

Whoever came up with the great idea to democratize the position of public defender, are you proud of yourself now?  Sadly, you may well be.  After all, the people have spoken, and isn’t that what Jacksonian democracy demands?  No matter how monumentally poor the choice may be, it’s the will of the people that matters.

Let’s be clear, Burk isn’t to blame.  He laid out his views, all of which made clear that he possessed no qualifications for the post whatsoever.  Dog catcher? Maybe. Public defender? Not a chance.  So naturally, he won. See how that works?

Of course, none of this mentions the greater philosophical problem: the stewardship of individual rights and defenses of poor people left to a man who, just yesterday, was trying to put those very people in jail.

How exactly will that prosecutorial mindset so quickly convert to one of defending rights at all costs? How will he suddenly bring himself to the attitude required of criminal defense attorneys: that whether the client actually committed a crime is often irrelevant; what matters is whether the prosecution can prove it?

Gid is such an optimist, as if these concerns have any bearing on the vote.  Burk was elected because he won’t do the job of public defender. Burk was elected because people don’t want the job of public defender done; heck, they don’t want to waste their hard-earned tax dollars on criminals.

It isn’t the job of a public defender to worry about how much money is being spent on defense. In fact, if anything, the reality is that indigent defense organizations are criminally underfunded and could use significantly greater numbers of lawyers and investigators to provide constitutionally adequate defenses.

Constitutional adequacy, the bare minimum of what is demanded of the defense function, is such a parochial concern.  Sure, guys like Gid, like me, like Lyle Jones, care about constitutional adequacy.  Truth be told, we care about a whole lot better than mere adequacy, but our expectation that even the poor receive the full panoply of constitutional rights, particularly a zealous defense, may exceed even the pale aspirations of well-intended voters.

The fact remains that the voters of the 25th Judicial District spoke. They spoke loud and clear. They don’t think much of criminal defendants. They aren’t inclined to see their money go toward their defense.  And they won’t lose sleep worrying about their constitutional rights.  After all, they’re criminals.

Bo Burk, on the other hand, was a prosecutor. Prosecutors are the good guys, the ones who put criminals in prison so they won’t rape our daughters or waste our money.  Burk knows how to handle a large volume of people, to keep the wheels of justice grinding and make sure those poor criminals move in and out as quickly and effectively as possible.

That’s what people want from their legal system.  Have all the trappings, but keep them bodies moving.  American justice is sweet.  And when you elect a PD, you can pick the guy who does what you demand of him.  Bo Burk is that man.

For those who still believe that jury nullification will somehow solve the ills of the criminal justice system, bear in mind that the nice folks who voted Bo Burk into office are the same ones who will sit on your jury.  Are you still sure they harbor some secret wish for your flavor of justice?

And then there are the judges, elected by popular vote, because the public clearly wants guys in robes who are smart, thoughtful and fair?  Just like Bo Burk?

There are demands of our system that, sadly and pathetically, fail to comport with what a great many, perhaps a majority, of American see as their favorite choice.  Defending the indigent is something that doesn’t strike a great many as a good use of resources.  That’s because they aren’t too concerned with defending the accused at all, and even less so when it’s their money paying for the defense.

It’s not to be cynical about people. They have their own concerns, and it’s another truism that nobody gives a damn until an issue affects them personally.  And people play the odds, assuming that anyone arrested did it, or at least something that warrants their prosecution and punishment.  Sure, it means a few innocents or less-guilty-than-charged will get burned in the mix, but they are willing to suffer such collateral damage as long as it’s someone else paying the price.

That Bo Burk, a man qualified to be anything but public defender, was elected is hardly shocking.  That we have a system that would allow a person whose qualifications suggest that he shouldn’t be let anywhere near a criminal defendant win the office is where everything went wrong.

The question isn’t whether Burk should be elected, but whether he will be re-elected if he didn’t get around to doing the job for which the people put him in office.  After all, sometimes it takes two terms to make sure every person hated in a community ends up in prison.  Give Burk the chance to finish the job for which he was elected to office. And if a voter ends up on the wrong end of Burk’s system, remember that he was your choice.

6 thoughts on “The Constitution in Bo Burk’s Hands

  1. Wheeze the People™

    Actually, he’ll be proudly waiving his stats as he runs for his next office, maybe Governor of Tennessee: “As Public Defender of the 25th Judicial District of Tennessee, I sent 97% of all my clients to prison, where they belong. Imagine what I could accomplish as Governor of this fine state . . .”

      1. Dave

        Though making such a boast publicly SHOULD get him disbarred and also get all of the defendants on his watch new trials.

        1. SHG Post author

          The fact that this is who will be the public defender is already so far beyond that pale that I can’t begin to imagine what more is needed to disqualify him from all representation. But that’s me.

    1. John Barleycorn

      Send him the Spencer Coat after you are done with it and if that doesn’t work start a Public Defender Super PAC.

      You can sell some of your vests through crowd sourcing promoted on Reddit to fund it until the funds start rolling in from the industrial military complex, telecom, and broadcasting industries.

      Or move down there and become a middle school history and civics teacher or something and do it old school.

      1. Wheeze the People™

        August 20th, 2014 is the do-or-die day for the Spence jacket and the Cobra boots. If the jacket and boots were to lose that day in court, it will cost me between 2 to 3 million hard-earned simoleons . . .

        The jacket better not be defective or I’m suing someone for malpractice . . .

        There will be pics though, win or lose, to mark the thrill of victory or the agony of de ‘feet . . .

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