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The Unseen Fight

The judge, apparently unmoved by my contentions, humored me with some verbal niceties but denied my demands. The case set for trial, Mr. Santiago to remain in custody without bail. Still though, in those moments of advocacy for my incarcerated client, a sense of solemnity overtook me.
A windowless San Jose courtroom.  A December Tuesday morning. I rose from my seat, cleared my throat, and argued. I called for the preliminary hearing judge to dismiss the felony assault charge against Mr. Santiago.  I detailed the discrepancies between the victim's descriptors of the culprit and my client's appearance. The victim said his attacker had tattoos on his arms. I had my client stand, peel back his county jail top and show the court his un-inked arms. I stressed the police officer's mishandling of the identification that led to my client's arrest; the officer had shown only one picture, my client's, to the victim rather than use a photo lineup.

The judge, apparently unmoved by my contentions, humored me with some verbal niceties but denied my demands. The case set for trial, Mr. Santiago to remain in custody without bail. Still though, in those moments of advocacy for my incarcerated client, a sense of solemnity overtook me.

So intimate, noble, and sacred. Standing while everyone else sat, up there in solitude, speaking in the largely empty courtroom. Just the clerk, bailiff, my client, the judge, the DA and a court reporter.  No jury. The gallery seats empty except the one occupied by my client's mother, a woman who spoke no English. No supervisor or colleagues or interns watching. No cameras. No reporters.

Standing up for my client. Next to my client. With my client. Holding the government to their burden, shielding my client from a possible mistaken prosecution, calling out inept, or at least inadequate, policing. All other intentions and motivations stripped away.

Not spouting off because someone was watching. Battling because it needed to be done. Because it's what we public defenders do: struggle, grapple, resist. In the quiet, nondescript courtrooms every weekday morning or afternoon. For the countless, oft forgotten clients in the cases that fall short of any headline. Fighting the unseen fight.

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