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The RNC Owes Tim Kaine (and All Lawyers) an Apology; Ads like this Hurt the Cause of Better Indigent Defense!

It pains me to write this.  I want to support the Trump/Pence ticket and other Republicans and I do generally do so.  But a great colleague of mine wrote a protest of the ad and I saw it today.  Here is a story from CNN about the ad.

While I agree with the criticism of the potential disposition of Jens Soering, I strongly disagree with the criticism that somehow Kaine is morally wrong for defending in court a person who turned out to be a vicious criminal.  I have, for example, defended accused terrorists (well, one at least), murderers and rapists but I do not share their values.

I have to be consistent.  I called out a GOP candidate (she won the election alas) because she criticized lawyers unfairly.  Here are my posts on this.  I have also brought up similar anti-lawyer bias and bigotry by others.

Now this ad has been compared to “Willie Horton”, the allegedly racist ad used against Michael Dukakis by George H. W. Bush in 1988.  (The Horton story was first used by Al Gore against Dukakis in the primaries but the name or face was not used and it was a pro-Bush group that ran the infamous ad but Bush ran a less spicy ad on the subject.)  But it is not the same kind of ad; but it is not acceptable.

We must find a way to honor what lawyers do when they do it right.  Martin Luther King Jr was a conscience for our nation BUT it was Thurgood Marshall who won many of the cases that made the civil rights movement possible.  It’s lawyers who protect us against bad products.  We do an honorable work for people.  Yes there are a few bad apples but that is true in any profession.

Now, this sort of thing is why it is so difficult to get proper funding and help for indigent defense.  Here we are in Virginia, still with the crazy quilt of some counties and cities have PD offices and others do not – I contend that this is unequal justice under law.

Check out this article in the Christian Science Monitor (the old standard for debaters in high school – right up there with Time, Newsweek and the US News and World Report) on the financial disparities between public defender offices and prosecutors’ offices.  It cites Loudoun County Virginia:

In Loudoun County, Va., where [Assistant Public Defender Ryan] Ruzic works as an assistant public defender, the police department gets $84 million, county prosecutors get $3.3 million, and public defenders get $2.1 million. Put another way, 98 percent of the criminal justice spending in the county is arrayed against Ruzic.


At any given moment, Ruzic has between 100 and 125 open cases. Each month usually brings 20 to 30 new clients, one or two jury trials, and one bout of major burnout. Some public defenders have twice that caseload. Some prosecutors make twice his salary.

And I ask:  What about neighboring Prince William County where there is NO public defender office?  At least in Loudoun, the public defenders have institutional support like investigators, sentencing and mitigation specialists and fellow lawyers to share ideas, cases, stories and encouragement.  The court assigned lawyers, as dedicated as they are – and most of them are very dedicated – do not have those resources.  Not to even consider the pay for court-assigned attorneys.  It truly is unequal justice under law.

There is at least one more thing:  Only three cities or counties that I am aware of (Alexandria City, Charlottesville City and Albemarle County) equalizes the PD office salaries even though the jurisdictions pay the prosecutors a salary differential due to their work enforcing local laws.  Maybe a Richmond mayoral candidate will call for equalization of salaries in the River City.

This is why I proposed a study bill, introduced by Senator Rosalyn Dance, to study how and why we should have a statewide public defender system.  That bill was amended to limit it to the appellate defender office but it is important to continue the fight.  I am told that the senator will introduce this bill again.

So my advice to the Republican National Committee – apologize to Senator Kaine and all lawyers and modify the ad to speak on issues such as Soering.  I would also note – this is not a Trump/Pence ad but an RNC ad.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

2 Responses to “The RNC Owes Tim Kaine (and All Lawyers) an Apology; Ads like this Hurt the Cause of Better Indigent Defense!”

  1. Paul Blumstein says:

    Our system guarantees everyone to the best defense possible. That means that a defense lawyer needs to do everything legally possible for his client even if that lawyer believes his client to be guilty. Not a pleasant job by any means, but a necessary one.

  2. mr green jeans

    If one of the primary purposes of government is to reward good and punish evil, then how is this done? In USA it is the judicial system which is consist of institutional type attorneys or lawyers in forming the laws, adjudication then enforcement. The system is broken. I would not go so far as to say corrupt but certainly dysfunctional. So who failed? “Mirror Ignore on the wall….”


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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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