by Susan Bozorgi on March 5, 2014
Jill Paperno is the second assistant public defender for the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester, New York. She has represented indigent defendants at the Public Defender’s Office for over twenty-seven years, handling primarily violent felonies and drug offenses. She has extensive trial experience and has trained and supervised staff attorneys for seventeen years. She is a frequent presenter at continuing legal education events, lecturing on topics ranging from “The Nuts and Bolts of Criminal Defense” to “Strategies for Cross-Examining the Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome Expert.” She is a contributor to the New York Criminal Defense Blog. In 2010 Ms. Paperno was awarded the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office Jeffrey A. Jacobs award for outstanding trial work. In 2011 she was named a Rochester Daily Record Leader in Law and awarded the Daily Record Nathaniel Award. She contributed a chapter to Strategies for Defending Sex Crimes: Leading Lawyers on Understanding the Current Sex Crimes Environment and Building a Thorough Defense, published in 2011. She is the author of Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense, which was published in 2012. Jill exemplifies the PD spirit, and like so many champions of justice who commit themselves to indigent representation, her work often goes unrecognized. Her book is a testament to her commitment to assure that the next generation of criminal lawyers has access to strong skills and training. I am honored to introduce Jill Paperno to you.
What inspired you to specialize in criminal defense and spend so many years dedicated to the defense of indigent clients?
I can’t say that this was my original goal. My direction evolved over time. I was always interested in issues relating to social justice and civil rights. I majored in social welfare, but after my social work internships I felt that I could not have as great an impact as a social worker as I could in law. I loved my criminal law and criminal procedure classes. After graduating I worked at Prisoners’ Legal Services, and then about two and a half years out I was lucky enough to land a job at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. New York allows each county to decide how to provide indigent defense, and Monroe County was one of the few PD offices that handled felonies, so there were many staffers with a depth of experience and knowledge.
I stayed because I loved the people I worked with, I cared deeply for so many of my clients, I was enraged by the conduct of some of the police officers involved in cases I handled and felt that I could challenge the injustice my clients experienced, the job was challenging and exciting, and I felt I had a knack for it. And of course, I was engaged in the social justice and civil rights work I had always cared about. I was also lucky enough to be in an office that was relatively well funded, as compared with so many across the state (and country). Of course, we need much more, and our caseloads are too high, but we have the ability to hire experts and the office culture has always been one in which quality representation was expected of the staff.
When you started your career as a public defender what was the practice like for women at the public defender’s office and how have things changed for women public defenders today?
When I started there were very few women doing criminal defense or working as public defenders in the criminal trial section of the office. I can think of three women who were in the criminal trial section when I started. Once women had children, they often moved to other work within the office or in other places.
The men in the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office were accepting of women attorneys. The supervisors in the criminal section were all men when I started. My male colleagues were wonderful people who were always open to sharing their knowledge and providing support and promoted an inclusive environment. By contrast, the social relationships that some of the men had with some of the judges and prosecutors were not inclusive and women were often excluded from that camaraderie. I was surprised to find out over the years just how much contact there was between some of the judges and some of my male colleagues.
Many judges didn’t know how to deal with women defense counsel in a professional manner There was one judge who closed the door on me and only spoke with the prosecutor. Another hugged me on his way into court each time I handled a docket in his courtroom. One judge used to make sexual comments to me (and other women), and would routinely comment on our perfume and clothing. One judge made some comment to me about pulling off his loincloth. I’m still baffled by that one.
Now there are many more women serving as criminal defense attorneys, as prosecutors, and on the bench, so the culture has changed. I think many of the judges now on the bench have worked with women attorneys, and don’t have the resentment, discomfort or inability to interact appropriately with a strong woman defense lawyer. (Of course, some have temperaments that do not suit them for the bench, but I don’t think their irritation is directed more at women than men these days.)
Did you have women mentors, and how did this affect your growth as a lawyer?
I did not. I had some women friends in the office, but none who tried to teach me the ropes. We were all extremely busy with our heavy caseloads, so it was hard to have enough time just to get your own work done, never mind taking someone else under your wing.
What kept you at the public defender’s office for so many years? And why do you think more people don¹t commit to a career as a public defender?
It’s funny – I’m now the person who has been in the criminal trial section longer than any other lawyer. I hadn’t really thought about what that means until I was talking to Ernie Lewis of the National Association for Public Defense recently, and he commented about the challenge of being a trial attorney for all of these years.
I have stayed because I love the work, the clients, and my coworkers. I love the challenge of trying cases and speaking to juries. I love legal research – to me it’s like a treasure hunt. I enjoy writing legal memos. I enjoy training younger staff and attorneys in the community. There are certainly things I hate about it too – the arbitrariness of which client gets the deal and which doesn’t – depending on the prosecutor, the judge, sometimes other factors, and sometimes the day of the week or the time of the day. And the stress does get to me sometimes. But I feel I do good work for people and I love that too.
Over the years, many of my friends left because of the stress.
I’ve been able to stay because the work hasn’t hurt me. I make sure that I take vacations (just got back from Jamaica!), spend time with family, and have other outlets. I think yoga helps. Having a child helped me keep perspective over the years. I tried to be efficient at work, and then when possible, leave it at work, or at least spend evenings with my son when he was younger (before the iPhone teen years).
PD work is tremendously stressful, and it takes an emotional toll on the attorneys. I’ve seen attorneys have breakdowns as a result of the work. We’re dealing with people’s lives, fearful and angry families, challenging clients, and sometimes nasty judges or prosecutors. We are supposed to remember to make every objection in a particular way and at a particular time or we may have failed to preserve significant issues. It’s too much to ask, and it can all be quite terrifying. If you can’t find perspective and balance, you can’t keep doing it.
I think sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves – kicking ourselves for not making a particular argument or failing to raise a legal point. Maybe we said something the wrong way during a trial. I think that women, especially, can be pretty critical of ourselves and unforgiving of the mistakes we think we made. But to stay with the work, you have to find a way of forgiving yourself and recognizing (if it’s true) that you have done the best you can do, and you do a really good job most of the time. We have to recognize that if we weren’t doing the work, it’s likely that someone less caring and less hard working might have handled the case which would be a true injustice.
Do you think public defender offices offer advancement opportunities for women lawyers as compared to the private sector where there has been much publicized about the glass ceiling for women in firms?
I am the first woman in my office to have become a supervisor at the level I’ve reached. But that hasn’t been easy. I think there may have been some kind of glass ceiling earlier in my career, but it seems like women can advance to the top now. There are more and more women leading PD offices, and that is tremendously heartening.
What inspired you to write Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense and what kind of feedback have your gotten about the book from young lawyers, especially young women lawyers, looking for guidance?
There were several reasons I wrote the book. I saw so many attorneys in court who did not know what they were doing, and although some were well-intentioned and wanted to help their clients, they would make huge mistakes in representing clients (like pleading clients without any agreement, failing to recognize the significance of Fourth Amendment issues, or failing to understand the importance of immigration consequences). I spent many years teaching younger staff, and thought it would be helpful to try to pull together in one place a lot of the information I had learned over the years, so that maybe I could contribute to the improvement of defense, especially defense of indigent defendants.
The feedback has been great (although I doubt someone I know will come up to me and tell me the book was terrible). I’ve guest-lectured in some criminal defense clinic classes in Syracuse and the students have been very generous in their comments. I was even asked for my autograph! I’ve been contacted on LinkedIn or through my website by some strangers who bought the book, and they too have been very positive in their feedback.
What was the most fascinating case you ever worked on? What is the case that has most stayed with you through the years?
Wow. That question could take me in some very different directions. There were two cases I found really fascinating – a murder case with a client who had a brain injury, and we used an imperfect justification defense, and a sex offense in which the client’s defense was that he was actually engaged in the practice of Santeria.
One of the cases that has stayed with me was the case of a woman who was abused as a child, and then went on to cause the death of her young son. My son was younger at the time, and I couldn’t help but picture the child in the situation. Usually I’m more able to compartmentalize.
Although I think we all have some types of cases that might touch us more deeply, I hear the women I work with articulate it with greater frequency. I think we have to create an environment in our offices where it’s okay to acknowledge the sadness and pain the work sometimes causes.
What part of being a public defender most fuels you? And what part most drains you?
Most fueling – fighting unfair police practices, connections with clients, enthusiastic younger staff, brainstorming with experienced and knowledgeable colleagues, and finding the legal key that unlocks a case. Most draining – arbitrary offers; lying cops; mandatory sentencing – especially for young or developmentally disabled defendants who barely knew what they were doing; the extent of authority given to prosecutors, some of whom lack the compassion and life experience necessary to make the decisions they are required to make; and unnecessary nastiness from some – certainly not all – prosecutors or judges.
Do you think women bring unique skills to criminal trial work? And what have you considered your secret weapon as a woman trial lawyer?
Strangely, I think one problem we as women sometimes have becomes a plus – I think often women are less confident as we come into this work, and it makes us work harder to know the law and the case. I also think we can come across as less blustery during trial. I think one skill I have is that I can usually read people pretty well – women’s intuition? – so in cross-examination I get a sense of what a person is feeling, whether they’re being truthful, and whether there’s something else going on.
Best advice you ever received?
Not from a lawyer. My grandfather had a keychain with part of the “Serenity Prayer” on it:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Something you wish you could go back and teach your younger self?
Don’t be afraid of looking stupid and don’t be so hard on yourself. In the future things that seemed big at the time won’t be. Actually – there was a great advice column years ago given as a commencement speech that summed up a lot of my feelings. The refrain was “Wear Sunscreen.” It was then performed as a song. Here’s the link.
by Susan Bozorgi on February 26, 2014
I love this video and thought I would share it. The Huffington Post says that the video reminds women of “All the Things We Can Already Do without Buying Mascara” and notes that the theme of “women empowerment” has now crossed over and become a sound marketing strategy.
by Susan Bozorgi on February 19, 2014
It seems that women’s issues are receiving more media attention every day. No matter what you think of Sheryl Sandberg and her book Lean In, it certainly started a revolution and established a platform to focus on women’s issues that was sorely lacking. I am a huge fan and applaud her courage to speak out so honestly about her own self-doubt, not an easy thing for anyone that has reached the top and has to pretend they are full of confidence. If you have not read her book I recommend that you do.
Many have criticized her message because it is delivered by a voice of privilege, but that is why the message is so powerful, not a reason why it should be discounted.
First, she didn’t need to take up this cause and she did it nonetheless. Second, privileged voices are the ones that reach the farthest because more people will listen, and that is why they have a responsibility to speak up for everybody. Sandberg took this responsibility to heart and deserves enthusiastic praise for it, not criticism.
Now that I got that off my chest, let me tell you about LeanIn.org, which is a tremendous resource for women. You can find a collection of inspiring Lean In stories of women from all walks of life and across a full spectrum of professions who share their struggles and triumphs. There is the “What would you do if you weren’t afraid” campaign, then the Lean In Collection of photos, the formation of Lean In Circles, and Lean In on college campuses aimed at inspiring the next generation of women. If you haven’t visited the site please do, it is packed full of news and inspiration.
If that wasn’t enough, Maria Shriver has started the Shriver Report which is a “multi-platform nonprofit media initiative led by Maria Shriver that seeks to modernize America’s relationship to women.” Read the About page to get an idea of how powerful an undertaking this project is for women. Shriver creates special reports such as “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink” which is a study about the rate of financial insecurity among American working women and what to do to change this. There are many stories of inspiration, but also the cold hard facts about where women are in our society today. I loved reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice to women: Get Out of Your Own Way… it is a must read. Check out the entire site if you haven’t already.
And keep going back to Makers, which I highlighted previously, for new video clips of women sharing their stories. It is a wonderful historical collection of women telling stories of struggle and success from their own mouths.
Women face real disadvantages in law and in business. But it is encouraging to see momentum building for real change and a level playing field. The resources highlighted in this post provide inspiration, encouragement, and practical guidance. So be sure to take advantage.
by Susan Bozorgi on February 12, 2014
Things are changing quickly for women in our field. There are more and more opportunities for women in law, and in criminal defense specifically, to advance and connect. Here are just a few of the new and exciting things happening around the country. I will be at every one of the events discussed below, and I would love to connect if you can make it.
The first woman of color was nominated to lead the ABA in 2015. Paulette Brown of New Jersey will be the first woman of color elected President of the American Bar Association. Brown spoke to the association’s House of Delegates on Monday and acknowledged the symbolic importance of her nomination, noting that “whenever one is the first anything the expectations are a bit different.” Learn more about Paulette Brown’s career and commitment to the advancement of women here.
On February 18th, 2014 the Pennsylvania Bar Institute is holding its annual seminar, Defending the White Collar Case, in Philadelphia. The seminar is organized by Ellen Brotman of Montgomery McCraken, and I’m honored to be participating as a panel speaker. More than half of the panelists are women practitioners, which is a strong statement of Brotman’s commitment to support women in the field and highlight the expertise that women have. For those of us working in the white-collar arena and attending white-collar conferences, we know this is the not the typical ratio of women to men on panels. Bravo to Ellen Brotman for her commitment to change that.
On March 4 through March 5th the Women White Collar Defense Association will be holding its annual spa day event at the Biltmore in Miami.
On March 5, 2014 the Women White Collar Committee for the Criminal Justice section of the American Bar Association is holding its annual Women’s White Collar Reception in connection with the annual ABA White Collar Conference in Miami, Florida, at the Eden Roc hotel. The cocktail reception immediately follows a panel discussion, entitled Women in White Collar in Today’s Global Corporate Community, which will be moderated by Patricia Holmes and Nina Marino, and will feature panelists Karen Popp, Maria Green, Andrea Zopp, and myself.
On March 7, 2014 during NACDL’s Collateral Consequences Conference and Midwinter Meeting, there will be a Lunchtime Panel Discussion focused on women’s issues called Career Paths For Women in Criminal Defense: Challenges and Triumphs. This panel was organized by the NACDL’s Women’s Initiative and sponsored by Ellen Brotman’s firm Montgomery McCraken. The panel will include NACDL Board Member Nina Ginsberg, as well as Margy Love, Jenny Roberts, Margy Meyers, and Michele Fournet.
I look forward to seeing and connecting with many of you at these events.
by Susan Bozorgi on February 5, 2014
Last August at the ABA Annual Meeting, United States Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech unveiling his new proposed strategy to deal with over-criminalization. He called it “Smart on Crime.” The ABA recently reported that there seems to be bipartisan support for sentencing reform after those within and outside of our criminal justice system are finally realizing that we simply can’t afford to house the rising number of prisoners in this country. In the article, they discuss the shocking statistics – including the fact that since 1980 the federal prison population alone has increased by 800 percent from 25,000 to more than 219,000. The BOP budget makes up more than 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget and is projected to be as much as 40 percent of its budget by 2022.
The DOJ Smart on Crime strategy is based on five principles:
- Prioritize prosecutions to focus on the most serious cases.
- Reform sentencing to eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overburdened prisons.
- Pursue alternatives to incarceration for low-level, nonviolent crimes.
- Improve re-entry to curb repeat offenses and re-victimization.
- “Surge” resources to violence prevention and protection of the most vulnerable populations.
Last May, the House Judiciary Committee appointed a task force on over-criminalization. And there are efforts to craft multiple bipartisan criminal justice reform packages, including the Justice Safety Valve Act. Eric Holder said it was “well past time to implement…changes.” Although I am thankful that DOJ is finally getting on board to support sentencing reform I am also mindful that things won’t change fast enough for our clients.
So how does this help clients today who are still currently facing draconian sentences on non-violent offenses and mandatory minimum sentences in drug offenses while we wait for Congress to act? The statements alone are helpful. Every speech that Eric Holder makes discussing the sentencing disparity in drug offenses, or advocating for sentencing reform, should be a part of every defense attorney’s presentation to a judge for a variance or departure. And although this is a federal court issue it equally translates to the problem with over-criminalization in State Courts throughout the country. It is a powerful statement that the Attorney General of the United States is advocating for sentencing reform… and we should be using his words in our advocacy for our clients.
by Susan Bozorgi on January 29, 2014
A recent NBC News article suggested that the gender gap can be closed by women “striking a pose”, an idea which is largely based on research by Amy Cuddy. Cuddy is a Harvard Business School social psychologist who conducted research about the impact nonverbal communication can have on the way that a person feels and behaves.
Cuddy discussed her research on “power posing” in a recent Ted Talk. The Talk is embedded below. It’s about twenty minutes long, but well worth your time.
The NBC article shares an anecdote about a woman named Sally Kohn, a Fox News pundit, who has a ritual based on Cuddy’s research in which she strikes a two minute “wonder woman” pose before going on set. This idea gives new meaning to Madonna’s use of the phrase “strike a pose” that was more about a woman demonstrating her physical beauty than her powerful and confident mind.
Could this be part of the solution to help women reach their full potential? I have always believed that our bodies have a kind of cellular memory, so it makes sense to me that by training our bodies to physically connect with our own power, we can reprogram our minds to experience that power.
I for one love the idea. I mean, what little girl from my generation didn’t want to be Wonder Woman? Now we can!
by Susan Bozorgi on January 22, 2014
Lynne Stewart was a fearless defender in New York City for decades before the U.S. Government indicted her in 2002 in connection to her representation of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of a long list of terrorist activities. After a lengthy trial she was convicted in 2005 and sentenced in 2009. Stewart was originally sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Koeltl to a 28 month sentence, but when Stewart appealed the conviction, the Government cross-appealed and the sentence was reversed for being too lenient. At resentencing Judge Koeltl sentenced Stewart to a shocking 120 month sentence, which for her amounted to a death sentence. At the time of her sentence Stewart was 70 years old and a breast cancer survivor.
In 2012, while serving her sentence, Stewart was diagnosed with incurable cancer that had spread to her lungs and lymph nodes and was given a prognosis of only 18 months to live. Her request through BOP for compassionate release was denied and when she first sought relief before Judge Koeltl, he denied her request. In her motion for early release Lynne Stewart submitted a moving letter to the Court in which she stated in part, “I do not intend to go ‘gently into that good night’ as Dylan Thomas wrote. There is much to be done in this world. I do know that I do not want to die here in prison — a strange and loveless place. I want to be where all is familiar — in a word, home. … I have no grandiose plans — just good food, conversation, music. That is what I look forward to. And of course, my beloved husband Ralph — my hero and help, my heart, through all the last 50 years. I need him and his strength and love now to be close to me as I get ready for the nearing moments of transition and then rest. If you indeed represent the merciful hand of the law, as against, in this case, a heartless bureaucracy, do not punish me further. Grant me release and allow me to die in dignity.”
Finally at the end of 2013, the Government filed a motion requesting her compassionate release and on Dec 31, 2013 Judge Koeltl ordered her release. Jill R. Shellow, a New York criminal defense lawyer, who has continued to represent Stewart since the trial told the New York Times “It restores my faith in the Justice Department to do the right thing.” Later, after Judge Koeltl issued his order, Ms. Shellow added, “The judge’s exercise of mercy on New Year’s Eve shows his compassion for Lynne and the depth of his commitment to seeing that justice is done.” Michael Tigar, one of the other trial attorneys, discussed Jill’s tireless commitment to free Lynne Stewart on his blog.
Not even knowing Lynne Stewart or the underlying facts in 2009, I remember feeling sick about the fact that a fellow defender was being jailed in connection to her representation of a client that few would have had the guts to even consider taking on. Without knowing or commenting on either the strength or weakness of the Government’s case against Stewart, I consider that whenever an attorney faces criminal charges that arise out of his or her role in representing a criminal defendant that the very foundation of our profession and our constitution is at risk. And her release, although agreeably merciful, is a hard thing to truly celebrate when you consider the aftermath and consequences to our system that results from the Government bringing any criminal defense attorney to their knees based on their role in defending the criminally accused.
by Susan Bozorgi on January 15, 2014
The first female law firm has opened in Saudi Arabia. Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, the first woman issued a law license in the Kingdom, and the first woman lawyer ever to appear in Court defending a client, has taken another huge first step and opened up a law firm. In a nation known for its oppressive treatment of women, this is no small accomplishment. Al-Zahran has stated that the “objective of her law firm is to fight for the rights of Saudi women and bring their problems before the court, since male lawyers in many cases couldn’t understand the problems and situations of a female plaintiff.” The count of female lawyers in Saudi Arabia is now up to four and Al-Zahran is hopeful that the numbers will increase dramatically now that this positive step has been taken.
It is almost a foreign thought, to us in the United States, that a woman would be celebrating the opening of her nation’s first female law firm in the year 2014. We take that right for granted – and we assume that we are light years ahead of a culture like Saudi Arabia. But is it possible that this sense of accomplishment has kept us from pushing for full equality in law and in business?
With great privilege comes great responsibility and I believe that we have a responsibility to Al-Zahran, to the women that will follow her in Saudi Arabia, and to women all around the world to continue to work towards full equality in law. Here is to a world full of female law firms!
Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: We Remain the First Line of Defense Against Prosecutorial Misconduct
by Susan Bozorgi on January 8, 2014
It is a good sign when anyone outside of the criminal defense bar takes up the case against prosecutorial misconduct. Last Sunday, the New York Times Editorial Board boldly addressed the negative impact of such misconduct on our system in a piece entitled Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct. The Editorial Board highlighted the recently issued dissenting opinion in United States v. Kenneth Olsen by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Judge Kozinski wrote that “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land” and noted that “only judges can put a stop to it.” In Olsen, the Government failed to disclose evidence that the forensic scientist who performed the lab tests in the case had been previously investigated relating to sloppy work which led to wrongful convictions in the past. The majority ruled that this would not have changed the outcome based on the overwhelming evidence against the defendant. Judge Kozinski chastised the majority and called this rationale a “serious moral hazard” and called out the fact that prosecutors are rarely punished for these violations. According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, courts punish prosecutorial misconduct in less than 2 percent of the cases in which it occurs.
These statistics are no shock to any of us in the trenches fighting for criminal defendants. While the Editorial Board states that all Courts should heed Judge Kozinski’s call, they also add that this alone will not fix the problem and that prosecutor’s offices should develop integrity standards of their own. That is the same as asking any group to police their own misconduct and, although a morally correct position, it has very little chance of actually changing anything.
From where I sit, as always, the defense bar is the first line of defense against Brady violations and prosecutorial misconduct. We have to remain vigilant while pushing for evidence, and must commit to exposing all incidents where evidence is withheld. The statistics referenced above relating to prosecutorial punishment only account for cases in which defense counsel is drawing attention to violations. We all know that there are countless cases where Brady violations go undetected because defense counsel is in the “let’s just get along” mode. I understand there are times when this is the right approach for a client’s sake, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be asking for everything that your client is entitled to. If a prosecutor considers that controversial or too adversarial for their taste you should question everything about their motive and their integrity.
I am not intending to shift the blame for Brady Violations to defense counsel. The responsibility remains in the laps of the prosecutors but we are and always will be the first line of defense against this devastating injustice.
While the New York Times Editorial Board should be applauded for bringing this issue to the public’s attention, let’s not forget that it is our job to keep pushing, prodding and objecting so that every instance of prosecutorial misconduct is exposed.
by Susan Bozorgi on January 1, 2014
Every year that women focus more on creating equality in law and business is a good year. Every year that women strengthen their connections with one another in law and business is a good year. For me and hopefully for many women, 2013 was a great year from that perspective.
In 2013, this blog enriched my life and practice more than I ever could have known was possible. I developed friendships with women who will hopefully be a part of my life for years to come. I have been the grateful recipient of the knowledge base of fellow women who have so generously shared their time and experience. And I have given of my time and knowledge to younger women in the field. In 2013, I was more mindful to reach out, up, and back to connect with fellow women… and it paid dividends and returns that will last a lifetime.
My hope for 2014 is that our community continues to grow and strengthen. I look forward to interviewing and meeting more amazing women all over the country that continue to bring passion, heart, and soul to criminal defense. And I hope that 2014 will be an incredible year for all of you as well. Happy New Year!