Sunday, April 6, 2008

Real World Experience

Over the past couple weeks, Mark Bennett has been extolling the virtues of "real world experience" before holding any sort of job within the criminal justice system. I would quite describe him as "blasting" prosecutors that don't have prior experience, but he certainly makes his opinion known that he believes they are operating at a disadvantage because they lack some fundamental understanding of life.

In his write-up over his recommendations for the 174th Judicial Race (before March 4th) he advocated John Jocher and Terrance Windham, largely because of their real world experience.

So my question for the day, is (while acknowledging that real-world experience is always valuable), does it mean that an ADA can't do their job effectively if they took the straight path from high school to college to law school to D.A.'s Office?

I pretty much took that route, and I think I turned out okay, so there's your answer.

Okay, well, maybe we can discuss it a little more than that.

What I observed in law school was that the students who came there after having spent time in the "real world" generally did a lot better in law school than those of us 22-year-olds. They understood business and taxes and other things that I didn't. And as a side note, they drank a lot less than us 22-year-olds, too!

However, Mark kind of implies in some of his writings that young ADAs are too sheltered (and thus can't do as good of a job), and I have to strongly disagree with that. In my opinion, nothing opens your eyes more to the fact that life is probably a lot more wild than you realized growing up over on Whisteria Lane than being a prosecutor. I mean, I understand where Mark is coming from, but I don't think that having previously held another job is any type of prerequisite for being a baby prosecutor.

Mark laments that many of the Misdemeanor Chiefs, when they return to Misdemeanorland from their first stint in felony don't have the experience that they should to actually be leading a court.

That point may have a little more merit to it, but I think it all depends on the Misdemeanor Chief and the "real world experience" that they got during their felony stint. I also think that the way a Misdemeanor Chief leads his or her court is usually directly correlated to what they learned from their first felony chief. If their felony chief wasn't reasonable and not open to hearing a defense attorney's version of events, then there was a high likelihood that the new Misdemeanor Chief would be the same way.

My felony chief was so laid-back that I occasionally had to check him for a pulse. He was also a great teacher who offered good advice and let me try some aggravated cases my first time up.

I would like to think that when I went back down as a misdemeanor chief that I was pretty laid-back, as well.

What I'm saying is that my time in felony let me experience what truly serious crimes were, and I knew that when dealing with many (not all) misdemeanors, there was no comparison. I didn't have the type of "real world experience" that Mark advocates ADAs having before they apply for the job of ADA, but I certainly picked up a load of it during my time at the Office.

So, I guess on that issue, it is a debatable point.

I've toyed around with the idea in my head if it would be worthwhile to change the "Position Structure" of the Office. Rather than have a first-time felony three become a chief, change the batting order somewhat. I'm not endorsing this plan, but I have thought about it.

Under the AHCL Plan, the order could go like this:

Start as a Misdemeanor Three (or Four now, I suppose).
Move up to Misdemeanor Two.
Move up to Felony Three (because let's face it, there's nothing that a Misdemeanor Chief tries that a Misdemeanor Two doesn't).
Move up to Felony Two
Then, become a Misdemeanor Chief and when the opening finally comes up, become a Felony Chief.

Just a thought, and the plan probably has more flaws in it than benefits. Not to mention that it would be very challenging to try to change that batting order now (think of trying to re-arrange the cars in a train while the train is in motion).

But as to Mark's argument about "real world experience" outside of the prosecutor's office being a bonus to being a criminal District Court Judge, I do actually disagree. The only exception to that is that I do think that a District Court Judge with both prosecution and defense experience would be good. However, I don't think that if that Judge had been an accountant, or perhaps even a, um, police officer that it would benefit them as a judge.

I guess the only major gripe I have with Mark is the use of the term "sheltered" when he describes prosecutors. I would strongly argue that prosecutors (and defense attorneys as well) are probably the least sheltered members of any community they reside in, just by the mere fact that they are the ones who truly see the underbelly of their society.

1 comment:

jigmeister said...

I recall when interviewing candidates for the office, life experiences was important to me. Not always past employment, but volunteer work in the community and other experiences where the candidate came into contact with the public. But I have certainly been wrong about some of my hires.

Law school grades never had much of a correlation to being in good prosecutor, nor did coming from a wealthy background.

The key is finding honest intelligent people with a real interest in criminal law with common sense.

Mark, there is no excuse for DA's to be rude or abrasive or to treat anyone other that with respect. When that happens complain to their supervisor. You may not get feedback, but you will have a more cordial relationship with that prosecutor the next time.