In my practice of criminal law, I often have clients ask me if I am a “real lawyer” or other similar questions that are aimed at determining whether or not I am a private lawyer or a public defender. These conversations usually happen in the hallways of the court, or in an actual courtroom by individuals who I do not represent. Clearly, if you’re sitting in my office you know I’m a private lawyer. I have a tremendous amount of respect for our public defenders and often find myself defending the public defender’s office and its lawyers to clients who make disparaging remarks. I often do so by attempting to shift the focus that these prospective clients have on who they should be comparing someone like me to.
While comparison shopping is important, and when trying to make a decision between various options for counsel, it is certainly important to find out what each possible lawyer can and will do for you, but it’s also important to know who you are really up against. In conversations I have with clients and potential clients who attempt to compare me or other private lawyers to the public defender, I immediately correct them. The adversary in the equation of someone facing criminal charges in Maryland isn’t the public defender. At the point in which you’re looking into hiring counsel, it doesn’t matter anymore how overworked the public defender’s office is, how new some of their lawyers might be, or anything like that.
The lawyer trying to put you in jail is in the State’s Attorney’s office.
The scenario I describe for these clients is somewhat simple. At the beginning of the day, on an imaginary morning two months from now, when your case is scheduled into trial, there are 2 stacks of files. There are the files on the prosecutor’s trial table and the corresponding files on the defender’s table. Assume that on day one the public defender has all of those files. Eventually, and leading up to the trial date, private lawyers will be hired in lieu of the public defender. This practice makes the pile of files on the defender’s table decrease. This not only helps the accused who has opted for private counsel, but it also helps out the public defender and his or her clients who cannot afford private counsel. Fewer cases for the Public Defender creates more time to spend on each. What many of my clients lose sight of, and I work to refocus on, is the pile on the prosecutor’s table. This pile remains untouched. In Maryland, there are no private prosecutors. No attorney like me or those in my office who will scoop up cases from the State and decrease their workload.
The advantage you get in hiring private counsel isn’t necessarily the comparison between us and the Public Defender. The real advantage is the fact that on an incredibly busy day, where I’ve worked with the court clerk to consolidate my dockets for efficiency, I will walk into court with 2 or 3 clients on a given docket. The prosecutor working for the State on that particular docket has my 2 or 3 cases, and likely has 15 or 20 more. In some jurisdictions as many as 60 cases in one docket!
Even on days in which I have worked with the clerk to consolidate some of my cases onto one docket, it is important to mention that the practice of consolidating dockets provides me more time in my office to work up, investigate, and research the cases that I do have.
I often find myself driving significant results from putting the facts and law of my cases onto a platter for the State, in a way that benefits my client. If I have a case where the charging document is deficient for one reason or another, in which my client should “win” and otherwise get a great result, I work hard to bring this to the attention of the prosecutor as early as reasonable and work out an agreement ahead of time. In most cases in which I successfully get the state to drop all charges against my client, I do so by painting a clear picture out of the puzzle that is most of these cases. I value the ability that I have to “do all the work” on a case for my client and at the same time for the State when that work results in the case being dropped. My clients usually appreciate it, too!
Jobeth R. Bowers is the managing founder of Bowers Law, LLC, a Maryland Trial Practice focusing primarily on Maryland Criminal Defense matters and Automobile accident claims in Maryland. Offices are located in Elkton, Maryland and Baltimore City, Maryland. The office services clients throughout the state of Maryland in these matters as well as others.