What part of defenders’ wariness about problem-solving courts stem from fears of altering their roles as zealous advocates? This is just one of the questions examined as part of a two-year exploration of problem-solving justice.
Problem-solving courts encourage prosecutors and defenders to get involved in changing the behavior of offenders and ensuring the future well-being of communities. This is a significant departure from business as usual. This wave of experimentation and innovation raises some important questions for court players, and defenders in particular. What part of defenders’ wariness about problem-solving courts stem from fears of altering their roles as zealous advocates? This is just one of the questions examined by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, the Open Society Institute, and the Center for Court Innovation as part of a two-year exploration of problem-solving justice. What follows is an excerpt from a transcript from a roundtable discussion held in March 2000 in Washington, D.C. For the complete transcript, click here.
Francis X. Hartmann, Executive Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University: What part of defenders’ wariness about problem-solving courts comes from fears of altering their roles as zealous advocates?
James R. Neuhard, Director, State Appellate Defender’s Office, Detroit, Michigan: The fear I have is losing the ability to say the emperor has no clothes. I think what I hear coming from the defense bar isn’t that these problem-solving courts are a bad idea. I’m not opposed to the idea of having more alternatives for my clients. The thing I find regretful about problem-solving courts is that we have to somehow give up our traditional role in order to make problem-solving courts work effectively. My question about problem-solving courts is why do we have to change anything about what we do?
Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson Jr. Professor of Law, Stanford Law School: If defenders’ ethical obligation is limited to “Protect your clients to the maximum extent possible from state coercion,” then what’s attractive about problem-solving courts and the alternatives they offer? When we talked about effective lawyering, we spoke about defense lawyers’ also attaching ethical importance to improving their clients’ lives. Then the question becomes: Are problem-solving courts a good means to fulfill that goal? Just as a little thought experiment, let’s imagine state coercion did not exist. What would be the nature of your ethical obligation to your client? What principles would guide you as you advised your client about the available alternatives to incarceration? Would you use your persuasive powers to the maximum extent possible to get your client into drug rehab, into the mental health system, or into other so-called service systems?
Kim Taylor-Thompson, Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law: If you’re asking whether I would advise somebody who has jumped a turnstile to go into the mental health system, as it now exists, then my answer would be a flat “No.” If you ask whether I would put this person in a program that somebody has investigated, that targets this defendant’s particular needs, and that gives this defendant a second chance if that type of treatment doesn’t work, then I might have a different reaction.
Scott Newman, Marion County Prosecutor, Indianapolis, Indiana: I think defense lawyers want to be sure that whatever program their client is sent to has adequate resources and is sincere—not just window dressing—so that the client has a reasonable prospect of a positive outcome instead of being thrown back in jail.
Michele Maxian, Attorney-in-Charge, Criminal Defense Division, The Legal Aid Society, New York City: I’d like to respond to Professor Weisberg’s question about using our persuasive powers. I never turn the full strength of my persuasive powers on my client. I don’t for two reasons. First, I have no idea what is in my client’s best interests—I’m a nice little white Midwestern girl living in New York City. Second, I believe in the dignity and individuality of my client. It isn’t that I don’t counsel them or that I don’t share my views with them. But I don’t lawyer them the same way I lawyer a judge or the same way I might lawyer a district attorney. This doesn’t mean that my responsibility towards my clients does not extend beyond the courtroom or that I’m not concerned about their lives.
Cliff Keenan, Counsel on Community Prosecution, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice: I’m wondering: Is it the defense attorney’s role in a problem-solving court to basically take on social work? During a break, I asked John Stuart: “What about the cases that aren’t prosecuted, do you have an interest in that person’s problems?” And, I think John’s reply was appropriate: “No, because they’re no longer a client.” When the attorney-client relationship begins, the lawyer assumes responsibility for that client’s legal issues. What is the attorney’s obligation, if any, to address the client’s non-legal problems?
Elizabeth Glazer, Chief, Crime Control Strategies, United States Attorney, Southern District of New York: It’s dangerous to say: “This is what a social service does and this is what lawyers do.” Social service and criminal justice are sort of two halves of the same coin. And if our overall goal is to reduce crime, it’s our responsibility to deal with both sides.
Neuhard: Well, I think it is my responsibility to counsel clients on how to keep their life going on a path that will keep them out of prison or jail. You’re not lawyering them—you’re trying to communicate what’s in their best interest for survival.
Jo-Ann Wallace, Chief Counsel, National Legal Aid and Defender Association: In my mind, attempting to convince your client to take a treatment alternative does not relax the zealousness of your advocacy for that client—whether it takes place at the plea stage or at sentencing. I would use a standard of the client’s “informed choice” to guide my ethical obligation. As a defense attorney, I’m trying to give clients as much information as possible. When the client makes an informed decision, I will then advocate for it, even if it is at odds with what I believe to be the client’s best interest.
Anthony Thompson, Associate Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law: I think you act as both attorney and as counselor for your client. You’re saying to the client: “You have some options here.” My understanding is that client counseling is consistent with client advocacy. You say to the client: “Look at these 20 prior convictions. Let’s talk about whether or not this 90 days in jail is what you want to do or whether you want to do 180 days in drug treatment.”
Neuhard: But if your client says, “A,” can you go into court and say, “Not A” to the judge?
Thompson: There are no circumstances in which you’re going to do that.
Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, Administrative Judge, New York City Criminal Court: I think if you are being asked to do that, then someone is doing something very wrong. Your client should never be in the position where he or she does not want to do something and the lawyer is saying the opposite. I think you should always be zealously representing your client in the best way you know how, but it can be done within the context of other options, like treatment.
John Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Minneapolis, Minnesota: I worry about the effects of collaboration on zealous advocacy. In problem-solving courts, you often have the same prosecutor, the same defender, and the same judge all working together in the same court day after day. Usually, as an advocate, I can tell a certain prosecutor that there is something wrong with his case and then I might not see him again for a week. Or if a particular judge got mad at me because I was making several motions, it wouldn’t matter because I would have eight different judges to go to afterwards. I’m concerned about the impact of telling the judge, the prosecutor, and the defender that they are all in this little boat together and they have to get along out there on the ocean. That, I think, could have a deleterious effect on the zealous advocacy of the defense attorney. We always have tried to avoid “horizontal representation,” where the public defender is assigned to the courtroom rather than the client.
Judge Kluger: I think that’s why it’s important to have aggressive, very capable defense attorneys in problem-solving courts. Lawyers have to be trained that you don’t stop being an advocate in problem-solving courts. I think the problem is that there isn’t enough education or training of the lawyers who are working in these courts about how to do it a little bit differently, but not with less zeal and not with anything less than the client’s best interest.
Maxian: I feel more like a patient advocate than like a lawyer in a problem-solving court. Most of the significant advocacy is done during the process of setting up the court. To be an effective advocate in a problem-solving court, defenders have to be closely involved in setting it up because so much depends on what treatment is mandated and how it is monitored.
Taylor-Thompson: To advocate zealously in a problem-solving court, you need real, long-term training to figure out what kinds of treatment programs actually work, what are an individual’s problems, and how to match that individual’s problem to a particular program. Defense lawyers, prosecutors, and judges are currently not trained to do this.
Cait Clarke, Lecturer, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government: The training gap could be partly addressed through teaching negotiation skills to criminal lawyers. Lawyers in problem-solving courts are largely engaged in negotiation. But nobody is teaching criminal justice negotiation skills, not one program across the country.
Esther Lardent, President, Pro Bono Institute, Georgetown University Law Center: Can public defenders and prosecutors really be effective lawyers in this kind of system? Do we really think judges are the right people to decide among various treatment modalities?
Glazer: My understanding of problem-solving courts is that it’s not so much the lawyers or the judges that are making these kind of treatment decisions. Rather, the lawyers and judges are relying on trained social service professionals to advise them and tell them what it is that they are seeing in front of them.
Stuart: You don’t need to have a specialty certificate to be a lawyer in a problem-solving court. Lawyering in these courts is plain old sentencing advocacy. For a long time before problem-solving courts existed, the defense attorney’s function has been mostly limited to sentencing advocacy—minimizing the amount of punishment or government intrusion. It’s a rare case that you get to argue that your client is not guilty and go to trial on the merits.