A comment by Skink the other day reminded me of a guest post that never happened. Out of the blue, I heard from a lawprof friend who sought to push me to write more about what was happening internally within the New York Legal Aid Society. I was sent a bunch of internal emails which were graphic and appalling.*
I replied that I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. If there were problems at LAS, then someone from LAS should come forward to say so, to tell the story of what the problems are. Not only wasn’t it my place to “explain” their view of internal problems, but enough already. Was there not a person in all of the Legal Aid Society with the balls to come forward to speak out?
At that point, there was no one willing to come forward to tell what was really happening at LAS other than my dear friend, Appellate Squawk, whose travails at the storming of her blog by the townsfolk carrying their pitchforks and torches were well documented. Later, another brave soul who showed the fortitude to speak publicly was Cynthia Taylor, but she was suing LAS which allowed public defenders to claim her words were tainted by self-interest.
If things were as bad at LAS as I was being told, where was the brave, bold, fierce public defender to come out of the shadows without being the target of accusations of heresy or suing for damages, untainted and uncompromised? Was there no one? If not, could it be as bad as so many were telling me?
The prawf who reached out to me offered a “solution.” There was, I was informed, a supervisor who wanted to tell the story about the internal wars over extremes of politically correct radicalization, about the lawyers who believed themselves fierce warriors for the cause, about the new lawyers who were certain they were the best lawyers ever, but couldn’t lawyer their way out of a paper bag, blaming the system for their own failings.
There was a catch. The supervisor, whom I will call “Piggy,” would only do so anonymously.
Understand that within the realm of public defense, the range of political views tends to run the gamut of moderately progressive to radically progressive. A liberal at LAS might as well wear a MAGA hat, The spectrum is narrow, but within that spectrum, the fights are vicious and absolute.
As much as Piggy wanted to tell what was happening, Piggy was scared of the flies. There were flies hovering above Piggy, and many more below, and they would swarm to destroy Piggy if they knew who Piggy was. To tell publicly was to end Piggy’s career at Legal Aid, and even though there were others who would fully support Piggy for doing so, they would be unlikely to step forward in Piggy’s defense and put their own butts on the line. That’s how strongly the heretics feared the flies.
After some reflection, I decided that it would be better to publish a guest post from Piggy anonymously than not. After all, I could preface it by noting that I knew Piggy’s identity and could verify that Piggy was who Piggy claimed to be, and so it would fall on my shoulders to believe that my source was real.
Sure, some would call me out for my allowing such a “passive-aggressive” post, or for lying to pursue my “agenda” of hating Legal Aid or public defense. It was only natural that I had to hate both because no one but a hater would speak ill of the most wonderful people in law. But I was prepared to take my beating.
I told the prawf that I would do it, protect Piggy’s anonymity and publish whatever Piggy had to say. In response, I received the information needed to reach out to Piggy directly and pursue this plan. Buried in the email from the prawf was an email address for Piggy, unconnected to LAS. There was also a prominent LAS email address under Piggy’s name. I sent Piggy an email. I sent it to the LAS address.
All hell broke loose.
I received an email ripping me a new one for sending the Piggy email to an LAS address, as the email might be seen by others reviewing emails for impropriety and Piggy might be outed as a snitch and ruined. How dare I? What was I thinking?
That was the end of the road, as far as this plan was concerned. I never heard from Piggy directly. There would be no guest post coming, no revelations from the inside, from a supervisor, from a voice that cared more about skilled lawyers defending the accused than fierce warriors in their own minds defending the cause.
Since then, other people who hold senior positions in the Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn Defender Services have reached out to tell me stories about how untenable things have gotten in their respective shops.
None showed any interest in taking it any further than privately telling me their stories, their complaints. It’s unclear whether they did so to confirm things I’ve written, or in the hope that I would be their huckleberry, doing the dirty work they lacked the guts to do.
While I could relate the stories, the complaints, the failings, it’s not the same as if it came from the people in the trenches first hand. Much as I may share their concerns, I can’t speak for them. And they won’t speak for themselves because they live in fear of offending the swarm of flies so full of their self-importance and righteousness that they care nothing about experience or hierarchy. And they don’t believe their peers will ever take the risk of backing them up.
You can believe what I say in this post or not. This is what comes of the flies swarming. And if you accept my representation that this is true, then accept one more piece of the puzzle: as bad as current public defenders may be, many of the babes in law school who intend to become public defenders to serve the cause are worse, not even the slightest hint that they aren’t already the best there can be, but by far the most absolute in their smug and snarky righteousness. No one, but no one, can tell them otherwise. At least, no one can do so and survive.
*Bear in mind that my views are often formed based on information I possess, even if I’m unable to reveal them because the information has been given me in confidence.