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.”

Lesson learned.

James MacAfee, Salem


We Love Letters

The Bulletin welcomes readers’ letters responding to recent articles or on topics of interest to the bar. Send letters to:

Editor, OSB Bulletin, P.O. Box 231935, Tigard, OR 97281 or editor@osbar.org.


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