Friday, December 23, 2005

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

In my line of work we see people at the very worst times of their lives.

Most of the time they never want to remember the terrible days they spent being interviewed and then cross-examined in court. At best we bring a little justice into their lives, but never “closure.”

My office has 17 employees -- five deputy district attorneys and twelve legal assistants and victim assistants who handle literally dozens of cases each day. People who visit the office are usually astounded at the sheer ferocity of the work as we are pushed at one end by the criminals and the cops who arrest them, and at the other by the court system setting cases every 20 minutes.

A few years ago I decided to gift a polo shirt to each new employee. They are dark blue with the gold seal of the Office of the District Attorney embroidered over the heart. Like many businesses we observe “casual Fridays” for those who don’t have to appear in court, and it drives the defense lawyers crazy to see a dozen staffers decked out in the blue and gold colors of the State of Oregon.

the Badge
This year I shared with my staff a letter I received a few years ago from a woman I admit to having long forgotten. They are the worker bees who do the daily work that makes a difference in so many ways great and deceptively minor.

The letter is from a victim of serious domestic violence who wrote that she “was a forgiving victim and did my best to convince you not to pursue the case.” I had insisted on going ahead with the prosecution, as a prosecutor often must in domestic violence cases.

She went on to say, “I want to let you know that you did me an enormous favor. . . . I’ll never forget what you said. . .and how one day he would kill me if he was not stopped.” She wrote that she had gotten a restraining order, a divorce, and had a rewarding career as a legal assistant with an attorney, and “was happier than ever.” She ended by saying that “People who know how horrible things were before ask me what made me finally get out, and I think it began with you. Thank you for caring. I just wanted to let you know that you made a difference.”

I know my staff often feels like Sisyphus eternally rolling the rock up the hill. So, it may be corny but I often remind myself and others of the story of the two kids walking down a beach after a very high tide that has washed thousands of starfish onto the beach. Every few feet one kid reaches down, picks up a squirming starfish and throws it back into the ocean.

His friend says “Why are you wasting your time? There are so many. You can’t make a difference.”

The first kid reaches down, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the water and says :

“It matters to this one.”

In this season, please extend a wish to the many unsung men and women working in thousands of prosecutors' offices across America “And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace.”

And to SSgt Joshua Marquis (no relation), stationed in Baghdad defending the Iraqis' right to try Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity, write him and send him a prayer: "For Peace on Earth, good will towards men.”

So, in ways large and small: Tidings of Comfort and Joy in a sometimes cruel world.

(NOTE: Check back after Christmas for a major rant on the criminal defense lovefest called “Injustice” that starts as a mid-season replacement on ABC-TV. The press release tells us these lawyers “Focus on cases where justice runs amok, cases in which an innocent person has been wrongly convicted of a crime.” Never mind that defense lawyers who represent only innocent clients would starve in about a week.)

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