Oregon State Bar Bulletin APRIL 2015
Not the Job Benefits He Envisions
I respectfully disagree with John Gear’s suggestion that “winners” in the job market include public defenders with “regular pay and benefits” (Letters, February/March 2015).
How astonishing it is to know that, in my last 13 years as a public defender, I am supposed to have had these wonderful things! Alas, there is no “regular pay.” I get paid by the case, so a Measure 11 that goes on for four days of trial after six months of appearances and motion practice maybe earns me $15 per hour. Misdemeanors are real money makers — maybe $500 per case! After two or three appearances, trial prep and a day or two of trial, I’m sure that works out to at least $15 per hour, too.
Benefits? What are those? I get to work in four counties covering I-don’t-know-how-many thousands of square miles. Occasionally I get mileage reimbursement, but only for two of those counties (which are, respectively, 80 and about 120 miles from my home, one way). I am not an employee but am self-employed, so I get to pay my own health care premiums of almost $500 per month with a $5,000 deductible. I guess I could have a retirement benefit if I paid myself one, but I still can’t manage paid vacation time. If I want to have that, I have to work while I’m on vacation.
The real benefits are that I get to do really important work and make a difference in my clients’ lives. I get to share time and space with dedicated lawyers who seriously care about the desperately poor and mentally ill clients who constitute the bulk of our practices. I get help and encouragement from outrageously in-your-face defense attorneys who insist that the law be respected and applied to every person equally, and I get to share in their successes and learn from their failures.
I owe more in law school loans now than when I graduated from law school 15 years ago. But I feel really good about myself. Maybe Mr. Gear has a point, after all.
Kittee Custer, Pendleton
Home Office Legal Assistants are Golden
I both greatly appreciated and identified with Bernard M. Levy’s Parting Thoughts column regarding his home office suggestions in general and the role of Cheddar, his golden retriever, in particular (February/March 2015).
This is because my own golden retriever, Macy, is my constant companion at my home office, my official “professional” office where I see clients and even at bankruptcy hearings in Salem. These are held at the Red Lion which allows dogs, and both trustees have become quite enamored with her. I can almost “see” my clients’ blood pressure drop when they get down on the floor to pet her. (One trustee has also done so.)
I do have one additional but extremely important suggestion to add to Mr. Levy’s:Whenever you partipate in a telephone hearing with any court, be sure to first put your dog in another room!
This tip was learned the hard way. I once participated by phone in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing where most of the participants were in the courtroom while I was on a “hot mike” that was broadcast over the courtroom’s sound system.
Unfortunately, as I was waiting my turn to speak, Macy spotted a cat out the window and unleashed a barking frenzy that made even me jump.
The courtroom went silent. After several seconds, the judge asked, “What was that?!” All I could say was: “My golden retriever just saw a cat.”
Even over the phone I could hear the courtroom laughter. When it finally subsided the judge simply said: “Mr. MacAfee, please put your dog in another room and then rejoin the call. I will recall your case at the end of the docket.”
James MacAfee, Salem
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