Last week, ACJP organizers drove up to San Francisco for the 10th Annual Public Defender Justice Summit. The summit coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Gideon ruling, and as such lent itself to very timely and inspiring discussions. The panels of discussants were pioneering attorneys, film producers, authors, and other stakeholders of the criminal justice system who are invested in bringing more fairness to the courts. The event was organized by Jeff Adachi, the elected San Francisco Public Defender.
What was most interesting about the panels was that they were debates around intricacies of the system that impact people every day. This was not just another slap each other on the back event. Discussants debated the tension between forced treatment and civil liberties, and the question of reforming the bail system.
A particular highlight for us was hearing Maurice Caldwell, who did more then two decades for a crime he didn’t commit, until being released in 2010 through the advocacy asistance of the Northern California Innocence Project. An audience member asked Maurice about how he kept his hope through all those years. He said, “When hope ran out, I invented faith.”
Also, we had the great fortune of seeing our friend Jon “Rap” Rapping, founder of Gideon’s Promise — a training center for Public Defenders in the South. We caught with Rap during lunch, and he shared some of the powerful work they are doing at the center to help public defenders stay value-driven in the rough and tumble world of criminal courts. When asked to share an example of a value they emphasize he said, “client loyalty”, and shared a story of how sometime while a Public Defender may start their career understanding this commitment, the pressure of keeping a relationship with the court may sometimes get in the way. So an attorney may hesitate, for example, to file motions on behalf of their clients if it seems like that may anger the court. In Gideon’s Promise training, attorney are encouraged to keep their client loyalty front and center.
It was a great trip up to SF, and hopefully more communities, beyond the community of legal practioners, can start joining these important discussions.