PDS offers help with criminal appeals

by Jamison Koehler on June 22, 2019
PDS appeals

You have to love the Public Defender Service (PDS) in D.C.

I am sitting with Jimmy Klein and Alice Wang in Klein’s office on the third floor of 633 Indiana Avenue, NW.  Samia Fam and Jackie Frankfurt stopped in earlier.  This is the dream team of appellate lawyers in D.C. and they are all offering input on an appellate brief I have been struggling with.  

Our meeting is part of the Appellate Consultation and Assistance Program for court-appointed appellate lawyers that PDS is now piloting.  As Klein describes the program:  

The overarching objective . . . is to help CJA appellate practitioners at the beginningof the appellate representation, by creating a collaborative process for the identification of appealable issues and the framing of those issues in the appellate brief.  Because these decisions often have a determinative influence on the outcome of the appeal, the PDS Appellate Division has long believed in the value of working with colleagues during this critical stage of the representation.  In addition, I hope to be able to provide editorial assistance during the actual writing of an appellate brief.  In this respect, too, the program will emulate the case-specific assistance the PDS Appellate Division offers its own appellate staff.  

In important respects, however, the program will differ from the model of assistance used internally at PDS.  Within PDS, consultation and advice are provided in the form of close supervision by a more experienced attorney who exercises oversight authority.  In the PDS-CJA program, all authority will remain with the CJA attorney.  Participating in the program will not commit anyone to accepting any direction or edits. 

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We had an arm’s length relationship with the private criminal defense bar when I was a public defender in Philadelphia.   We were often suspicious of the retained lawyers. Too many of them took all the client’s money for a preliminary hearing and then dumped the client on us.  We were left with an unhappy client and a lousy record.  

PDS takes a different approach.  They see their role as using their limited resources to leverage the much greater manpower available through the panel.  Our success is their success.  They don’t care about credit.  They are all about the client.  

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Building on many years of experience, Klein clearly enjoys working with junior lawyers.  He also has a light touch.  We begin our discussions in general terms, communicating mostly by email. At this point he is asking questions, gently pushing me in the right direction. Only in reviewing a final draft does he suggest specific edits. 

In the end, I have dropped arguments that at one point I had intended to serve as the basis for the appeal. My brief is tight.  And it includes one major argument – an argument that could be the difference between success and failure — that I had missed entirely.

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