There are tough jobs, and then there are tough jobs, and there aren’t many in America tougher than being a public defender in our criminal courts system.
You get paid less than nothing. You have way too many cases to handle at one time. All day long you’re dealing with some of the worst people in society: murderers, rapists, etc., and you are legally required to defend them. You’re also defending innocent people caught in a often-merciless system, with no means to hire a lawyer and counting on you to save their life.
This is the world we get introduced into in “Gideon’s Army,” a new HBO documentary I highly recommend (I’m on a bit of a movie kick this week, as you can tell.). It’s a fantastic look inside the lives of these public servants who burn out quickly and see so much heartache.
They’re so overworked (one PD’s girlfriend actually draws up a contract dictating when he has to stop working and spend time with her) and they lose so many battles, that you spend much of the movie hoping for any victory they can get.
These lawyers face crushing law school debt and the cards stacked against them, and about an hour into the flick I wondered why anyone would ever want this gig.
But they soldier on because they want to help people who can’t help themselves, and I came away with great admiration for Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander and the others featured.
“If I lose this case, it’s going to haunt me forever,” Alexander says at one point. “I just know it will.”
It’s an extremely well-done movie that’s well worth your time. It’s on HBO throughout July.
**Next, something that will make you shake your head. Here’s a video of people interviewing about why we celebrate Independence Day today…
These people should not be allowed to vote.
**Finally today, I’ve been waiting for more than a week for this extraordinary story to be available online, so I can share it with you all.
Gary Smith, who for a long time was the best magazine writer of any genre in America, has written one of his best stories in years.
It’s about Frank Hall, who on February 27, 2012 was a teacher and assistant football coach at Chardon High School in Ohio, when early that morning a very disturbed former student named T.J. Lane entered the cafeteria and started shooting.
T.J. Lane killed three students that day, but might have killed dozens more if Hall hadn’t chased him through the halls of the school and out the doors, with police finding him soon after.
Frank Hall is a hero, but didn’t ask to be, and has had a lot of trouble coming to grips with his new status. It’s an exquisitely told tale of a man thrust into a spotlight he never asked for, and learning to deal with it.
“We can’t all be heroes,” Will Rogers once said. “because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
We should all applaud Frank Hall, a true American hero.