By Victoria L. Bailey, Marion County Public Defender Agency
Greetings from the Marion County Public Defender Agency! I’ve been an appellate public defender here for the last nine years. As a public defender, I have the best job a lawyer can have. I work with the most amazing group of public servants – dedicated professionals who fight day in and day out to protect the rights of indigent criminal defendants. But, as much as I love my job, there are times when I get overwhelmed and feel defeated. I get to feeling defeated because I lose – ALL THE TIME! As a dear friend told me when I got my first PD job, “as a public defender, you have to redefine the win.” Only he knows for sure exactly what he meant, but I’ve always taken his sound advice to mean that if we ensure fair proceedings for our clients, even if we lose, we’ve done a good job. I also think it means we must find joy in small victories.
I’ve worked as a public defender other places, but have really found my professional home at the MCPDA. Bob Hill, our Chief Public Defender, has been a great advocate not only for our agency’s clients, but for the support staff and attorneys who work here, as well. As with most public agencies, money is tight. Under Bob’s leadership, we’ve developed a great in-house training program, but there are times when attorneys want to attend outside trainings and are unable to because of budget issues. So, due to financial constraints, I don’t get to attend very many appellate-focused training events.
This year, however, I was fortunate enough to receive the Indianapolis Bar Association Appellate Practice Session’s Jill Ellis Scholarship to attend the American Bar Association’s Appellate Judges Education Institute (“AJEI”) Summit in Long Beach, California. Organized by the Duke Law Center for Judicial Studies, the AJEI Summit has been referred to as “the nation’s premier appellate educational event.” For me, the chance to attend this year’s AJEI was more than a small victory. It was precisely what I needed (precisely when I needed it) to get reinvigorated and to recommit myself to the cause of public defense. While the entire program was outstanding, there were two sessions I found particularly impactful.
From a professional development standpoint, the “Tips from Two Writing Luminaries” session was great. Writing gurus Judge Diane Wood and Bryan Garner did not agree on everything, but they did agree that clarity and concision are the keys to effective legal writing – both for practitioners and judges. I’ve never been one for headings, but both Judge Wood and Mr. Garner really hit home the importance of headings and how they can be an effective tool for persuasion. They had other great tips for providing better advocacy and important reminders about knowing your record and your audience. Another big takeaway was the importance of editing. “Write, then revise, then revise again, and then revise some more.” Writing can always be clearer and more concise. I know I get complacent in my writing from time to time and this session really inspired me to work harder and be more creative.
From a personal standpoint, the very first session of the Summit, “The Japanese-American Internment: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” was the most meaningful. Hearing from Sam Mihara, who was interred at a detention camp in Wyoming with his family, about the deep sense of patriotism that carried on among the prisoners despite the gross injustices they endured was inspirational. There was much discussion of Fred Korematsu – the petitioner in Korematsu v. United States, 324 U.S. 885 (1945) – and his decades-long quest to clear his good name. As I listened, I was moved by the courage not only of Mr. Korematsu, but also of the brilliant lawyers who fought so hard on his behalf. Their dedication to their client and the cause of justice was inspiring. In representing my clients, I often feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. Hearing Fred’s amazing story was just the motivation I needed to stay in the ring.
I’m grateful to Ruth Johnson, Marion County Public Defender Agency Appellate Division Chief and Indianapolis Bar Association Appellate Practice Section Executive Committee member, for encouraging me to apply for the Jill Ellis Scholarship and to the entire Appellate Practice Section Executive Committee for the opportunity to attend the Summit this year. The experience rejuvenated my spirit and has made me a better lawyer. The Jill Ellis scholarship is an amazing gift to the legal community and I would encourage all appellate practitioners to consider applying for it next year and to become involved with the IndyBar’s Appellate Practice Section.
If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Appellate Practice Section, please email Kara Sikorski at firstname.lastname@example.org.