When people in their late twenties and early thirties gather to drink and converse in public, “What do you do for work?” is the typical ice breaker question. Oh, so you’re a consultant. And you’re a programmer? And your wife is a project manager…

Me? I’m a lawyer. I’m a public defender. No, I don’t “defend the public” from criminals. I defend people who are accused of crimes but who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.

And then, the follow-up question comes. Without fail, I am always asked The Question:

How do you defend those people?

The best thing about being asked this question every single time a new acquaintance finds out what I do is that I get to practice lots of different answers. With family members (and others with more tender sensibilities), the best answer is the earnest one. A legal system that flatters itself “fair” and “impartial” must treat everyone who comes before it with a basic modicum of dignity. My clients don’t often receive dignity from the world of poverty, drug addiction, and/or psychological trauma from which they come. And even if my client did something truly awful, the only person who will treat them with dignity and ensure that the system doesn’t cheat in its haste to remove him from society is–or should be–his lawyer. It’s a role that I enjoy playing, and every so often, justice comes out of it. That’s how I defend those people.

Sometimes this answer takes too long. Sometimes the listener has spent too many college years avoiding the talky-chatty classes that enable one to absorb humanism and civics at the same time. Sometimes they find it easier to hold on to the rigid value system learned in childhood than to let go of prejudices and look at the messy choices one must make as an adult. Sometimes a person has simply seen too many cases on “Law and Order” thwarted by fiendish defense attorneys to actually listen to what I have to say. In such cases, I (sometimes) refrain from working one or more of the following phrases into the conversation:

Pedophiles? They’re only scary if you’re seven.

Who said you can’t steal a car in self-defense?

The assault rifle was just for personal use and not for sale.

But quips like these do everyone a disservice. It’s not an answer to The Question. This person may well be a juror for some other defendant in the future. Since California puts all of its truly serious “criminal justice” issues on the ballot for a popular vote, this person might very likely have a direct influence on my own legal practice. If I have information worth sharing, I need to share it sincerely. Multiple installments might be necessary.

And this is why this blog exists. I see sides of life that most will never see unless they are knee-deep in it themselves. The criminal justice system is a subject on which most people have opinions despite not having the professional training or experience to participate in the field. This is only natural as crime stories capture the imagination. These stories involve questions of right and wrong, sanity and insanity, free will and the lack thereof. Poverty, addiction, violence, police authority, and state power come together in ways that often write their own lurid headlines.

Simply put – I want everyone who visits my blog to leave with a more informed opinion about the justice system and know the real effect it has on those that come into contact with it. It’s good for you. It’s good for me. It’s good for my clients. It’s good for our democracy. I am fully aware that these are my own subjective experiences and that they may or may not be proof of any larger “truth” beyond themselves, but I will always make sure that the stories you read here have truth in them. Truth is something we all chase, even if we never quite catch it. The chase alone is worthwhile.

My rules of engagement for this project are as follows:

1. I am choosing to make this an anonymous blog. This is for the sake of my clients, not my own. I will tell my readers that I am a public defender working in a major metropolitan area in California. Beyond that, I will not share any information that allows the reader to identify a client, another lawyer, a judge or any other “officer of the court” by name, or even by description.

2. I will never comment on a “pending case.” By the time you hear about it, any issues of law or fact have been resolved. My blog is a place for reflection, not news.

3. To further ensure everyone’s privacy, the people about whom I will write are likely to be composites of many different people.

4. Under no circumstances will client confidences be shared. Ever.

5. I will never mock a client. I do, however, reserve the right to respond to my work with gallows humor, dry humor, sarcastic quips, exasperation, desperation, and indignation. I will endeavor to keep feelings separate from judgements.

Disclaimers are fun, but now it’s time to get to work.

13 thoughts on “About

      1. You’re very welcome. It’s a little corny, but it’s the thought that counts, right? I sincerely enjoy your posts. You write like someone who lives in the ‘real world’ but haven’t been hardened by cynicism. There’s a lot of humanity in what you do and it comes across in your writing. I hope your blog enjoys the exposure it deserves.

  1. Is it unusual that a criminal defense attorney hasn’t spoken with witnesses and the jury trial is scheduled for a week from now? He doesn’t communicate at all. Thank you.

    1. That’s actually a complicated question that I really can’t answer. There are both understandable and inexcusable reasons for not speaking to witnesses. If you have a public defender and you can’t reach him or her, you can ask to speak to the supervisor. If you have a private lawyer, then you have other options available. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. I wish you the best of luck.

  2. Hi there,

    I recently came across your Chasing Truth Catching Hell blog and was wondering if there were any sponsored post opportunities available? I represent a number of law clients who are looking to sponsor posts with a contextual link in the text itself.

    Let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in, or if you have any similar alternatives and we can discuss further and make arrangements.

    You can contact me on james.dart7@gmail.com.



  3. We hired a lawyer and he was so certain we could get it thrown out of court but, then we had are witnesses and the cops where there all ready one went on the stand and after that cop told his side our lawyer said all right we caught him not telling the truth, and then the next court day, we went to three different court rooms only went in one of them, and the two cops went in last court room, da and our lawyer went in we figured are lawyer would come get us when they started and instead he came out and offered my boyfriend two years in prison and said one of our witnesses was a felon and that he couldnt be used didnt even want our other witness to be heard . It was like he was working for them, then he said its are word against theres. And that they wouldnt beleave us over the cops words.well he new from the beginning that it was are word against theres.how could things change that much cause of one of our witnesses we couldnt use what can we do or is there away we can find out if he really did everything he could of done?

    1. This makes me smile. I’m genuinely touched. I started this blog because writing was one of the few tools that took the painful mess out of my head and put it….somewhere else. If it is of any interest or value to anyone else, I’ll keep doing it. Keep writing yourself, and if you send me anything you write, I can give you notes.

  4. Hi Norm,

    I am a nurse trying to do my part in preventing Judge Persky’s recall. I also care about people and I feel both Judge Persky and Brock Turner have been extraordinarily wronged.

    I find it hard to stomach that a fair and well-respected judge is the subject of a cruel witch hunt and nonstop falsehoods against him. Besides bombarding my family and friends with reasons why Judge Persky shouldn’t be recalled, I have submitted letters to the editor of the San Jose Mercury (not published), and had a letter published in the Los Altos Town Crier the same day former judge Len Edward’s (a family friend) op-ed was published. I’m frantically writing more letters with the hope they’ll be published. So you see, I’m making a concerted effort to help, but it’s not enough.

    I’m writing to you because I see that you’re an excellent writer; your writing skills coupled with your judicial knowledge are needed to write op-eds or letters to the editor to the San Jose Mercury, S.F. Chronicle, Palo Alto Online, San Francisco examiner, and/or other publications. Can you help with this STAT?

    Here is the email for the head editor of the Mercury News, Neil Chase, if you want to give him a piece of your mind: nchase@bayareanewsgroup.com. Letters to the editor for publishing in the Mercury News must be 150 words or less; the SF Chronicle requires 200 words or less–the letter submission forms are on the news agencies’ websites.


    Toni Halliwell, RN PHN

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