What Matters to the State Public Defender #1

I, Joseph Sommers, have been a defense attorney for roughly 20 years.  Financially, I have done all right in the sense that I have been able to support my wife and family.  For the sake of candor, my wife and I have 13 children.  My financial situation has taken a dramatic hit due to my efforts to follow my conscience and to pursue justice.

I have attempted to alert the public to what is happening in their courts.  My efforts have forced me to pay a huge price financially, professionally, and in numerous other aspects.  While this story will not be told in this document, I would urge those interested to pursue the matter on the internet.  Something they may find interesting is my appearance before the Wisconsin Supreme Court which is on YouTube.  In particular, they may want to review the highlight video.

Some say (and in fact I have had this said to my face by members of the legal community) that there are few things more unethical than for a defense attorney to be justice-motivated.  Instead, an ethical attorney focuses merely on what is best for his client; and to be justice-motivated or to act for the common good, is deemed beyond the pale.  Remarkably, while the man on the street would have difficulty understanding it, many attorneys consider their indifference to justice to be a badge of honor.

I have never been convinced to see things this way.  In fairness to myself, I believe the facts overwhelmingly suggest that my way has not been to the detriment of my clients and has actually made me a far more effective attorney.

Down through the years, I have taken a considerable amount of State Public Defender appointments, despite the reimbursement rate being $40/hr.  Most SPD cases that I have taken are either: (1) appeals of convictions of serious crimes or (2) trial representation for defendants accused of serious crimes.  Often individuals have asked the SPD to appoint me due to my reputation, and the SPD has done so.  When this occurs, I often accept the case.

One reason why I take SPD cases is that it has always appealed to me to represent indigent defendants.  For various reasons, this has been more satisfying for me than representing individuals with money to spare.  Having justice on my side also has mattered to me in a big way.  Due to this I have turned down cases, both private and through the SPD.  A number of the cases I have turned down have been homicide matters, because the case simply did not appeal to my sense of justice.  I realize that this goes against the grain; but I also realize that, given the epidemic burnout among defense attorneys, my philosophy clearly may have a benefit.  Regardless, I have never seen any reason to apologize.

Of the criminal cases that I have taken to trial, I have won to my best estimate roughly two thirds.  For every trial that I have won, I have had many more dismissed or the end result being a time-served sentence for a lesser charge.  Time-served means that the defendant walked out of jail that day, and was not under supervision of any kind.

What follows are my results on Dane County SPD appointments for the past year and my recent treatment by the SPD to prevent me from representing defendants via the SPD in Wisconsin.

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