I’m Down But Not Out.



Hitting “Publish” Isn’t Easy.

I’ve written a lot of posts that haven’t been published. That’s a problem. It’s a problem of being too reserved, too cautious, or concerned about what I’ve written to offer it up for public consumption.

Early this year- in January- I wrote a post called “10 years.” It spoke to my decade of private criminal defense work since leaving the Office of the Public Defender. I wrote about how much I loved this job, how fun it’s been, and how lucky I’ve been to have an extremely helpful group of talented colleagues.

More importantly, I talked about the stark and grave realization of how grating this profession can be. How depressing it is knowing that, as much as you can fight for that guy standing next to you in front of the judge, the system isn’t designed for change even if the system has it wrong.  It will be wrong over and over and over and over and over again on individual cases before any sort of widespread change occurs (if it ever even does).

That’s a sobering thought. It’s why so many people get burned out (not that I’m burned out- I’m not).  It’s an idealism-sapping thought.

Back To The Future.

All of this caused me to wonder what my future is going to look like. Most people’s thoughts can wander towards the future and focus on a career goal or achievement. For lawyers in private practice, that goal is often becoming a judge.

By August I’d written another post called “Pedigree.” I talked about how the majority of state court judges have a similar pedigree. They have almost all either not worked in criminal defense work, or spent some of their criminal work as prosecutors. Off the top of my head I can think of zero who worked for the public defender’s office, then went to private practice focusing on criminal defense work.

I don’t have the pedigree to become a judge.  Further proof of this is that exactly nobody with any authority has ever quietly said, “Hey Matt, maybe you should think about applying for this open judge spot.”  My background means I’d get slaughtered in an election, too. the guy who helped “that guy” avoid prison is easy pickings.

You can be the most knowledgeable, most “just” lawyer on the planet, but if your career path looks like mine you’ll never get to put on the black dress and preside over traffic court.  I never thought I’d be a judge, anyway. The thought that it’s not even really a viable path to pursue even if I wanted to, though, is frightening.

You Have Nothing To Fear But Public Perception.

For some reason, and it makes no sense, these thoughts have combined to make me “gun-shy.”

I’ve written a post (“Like a Baby“) about how I can defend “those people” and still sleep at night. I never edited or published it.  A part of me thinks it came off too strong. Another part of me knows that there’s no explaining it in a way the general public would agree with. And, well, if I ever did decide to “waste” my time and run for judge, it’s the general public who does the voting.

I wrote a story (“Never Tell Me The Odds“) about a time when I was a young, aggressive public defender, that the captain of the narcotics unit tried to intimidate me out of running a hearing to suppress drug evidence. The narc unit had obtained an arrest warrant for a man based upon a very vague physical description. Of course, they used the arrest warrant to search a house and arrested my client (who wasn’t the subject of the warrant).

I never edited or published that story, either. It ultimately ran out of steam because the general public doesn’t seem to care as much about the intricacies of 4th Amendment reasonable searches as much as the general public cares about having our hero-cops take “those guys” off the streets- especially if “those guys” had small amounts of drugs near them.

Heros and Zeros.

Speaking of hero-cops, my post on Lt. Joe Gliniewicz from Fox Lake has also been sitting in the “drafts” folder.  Gliniewicz was our hero. Then we learned more about him. Now he’s a womanizing thief.  Gliniewicz didn’t change. Our knowledge and perception of him did.

That post explains how most the cops I know don’t want you to assume they’re a hero. Most of the cops I know don’t want you to assume they’re terrible people out to violate your rights. Most of them don’t want you to assume anything. They want you to look at them like the individual humans that they are.

The assumption that they’re heros, though, is dangerous. It’s the reason Gliniewicz got away with so much for so long. It’s what enabled the man to loot ridiculous amounts of public money, and all of the public trust.

I never hit “publish” on the Gliniewicz post. Rational as it is to assume police are just regular people- some of which are heros while others are thieves- if you publicly say something perceived as “unsupportive of the men in blue” you’re branded as some sort of anti-government extremist.  Discussions of police, just like discussions on global temperatures, have become so politically charged that they’re less a direct discussion on issues as they are an indirect discussion on which cable news channel you watch.  I don’t watch any cable news programs.

I Got Soft.

I could go on with the drafted-but-not-published posts, but I won’t.  The reality is that I haven’t posted much here because, for one reason or another I got soft. Somewhere, between “Illinois Law Makers Want Drug Dealers At Your School” and early this year I started to care what people thought.

That’s not me. I don’t care about the general public’s view on the criminal justice system or criminal defense attorneys. I care about truth, rational debate, and fixing what doesn’t work as intended.

I came into this profession with exactly zero exposure to the criminal justice system. I came into this job loaded to the brim with idealism (or naiveté depending upon how you look at it). I came into this job not caring what anybody else thought and unconcerned with how I might be perceived. I’m disappointed in myself for letting those things matter.

Thankfully, there’s an easy fix. The difference between being soft and keeping it real is taking my experience, writing true things based upon that and hitting the publish button without regard for how I think other people will take it.

That’s just what I’m going to do, and I don’t care what you think about that.


3 thoughts on “I’m Down But Not Out.”

  1. Thank you for your blog. You write very well and I enjoy reading about things in a completely different part of the world to my own. If you enjoy it, or it helps you, or it serves some higher purpose then carry on. If you wanted to stop it would be a shame, but if you wanted to carry on but felt you had to stop to appease others that would be some weak sauce.

    I would hope that any future elections you might face your openness, thoughtfulness and honesty would count for you in spades.


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