Amy Bach Gives Keynote Address to Kentucky Public Defenders

MFJ Blog

A news item

The other week I gave the Keynote address at the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy’s celebration of Gideon versus Wainwright. It was a fantastic event. The public defenders that received awards spoke so beautifully about their work. And the speakers were fantastic (David Boise and Ted Olson!).The Keynote I gave was dedicated to a psychology professor at Harvard, Richard Hackman, who died in January. Professor Hackman studied how we work together when we collaborate. He performed system analysis of the CIA, kitchen staffs, and basketball teams. He wrote about why one orchestra with gifted players would be considered the best and another a total failure. The cause was never any one player. Professor Hackman gave us insights into the ways in which the system changes the player, and determines how the players work together.

Here is how my Keynote ended:

What the eight years writing my book about criminal trial courts across America taught me was that measurement matters. No measurement. No change. It’s that simple. We have to deliver the way basic legal services are delivered in one community and compare it to another. We do it for cardiac surgery, and water supplies, and schools. We need to do it for our courts. Our citizens deserve this much.

We have a long way to go. The law is way behind other social institutions. An important part of the problem is the way we talk about them. We talk about problems of "indigent defense." Who among us with $200,000 in legal claims would not feel indigent? How about $6,000 to defend a son or daughter who was arrested for drug possession? Who among us would not feel indigent with a new $6,000 bill this month?

We do not have a problem saying we help children who can’t get breakfast and parents who can’t afford preschool. We don’t have indigent education. We have something called ‘Head Start.’ Why do we talk about people in our legal systems in this loaded way? Is it a way to give us an excuse to give bargain basement service?

Hackman would probably say the problem of indigent defense is not about indigence. It’s about a system. We are only as good as the treatment the people receive.

With this, we can create a moment: "Gideon 2" where we focus on proper systems and structures that measure progress.

This keynote is dedicated to Professor Richard Hackman. I think he would like this quotation from Amos in the Bible:

Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice.

Thank you for listening.