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  • Doug Tjapkes

Too many prosecutors on the bench!

Prosecutors have dominated the bench for too long. We need more public defenders to become judges. Headline, Business Insider. Like a lot of prosecutors, I possess a zeal that can border on the bloodthirsty .... I put a lot of people in prison, and I had a great time doing it ... Now I describe myself as a recovering prosecutor-"recovering" because one never quite gets over it. I still like to point my finger at the bad guy. Paul Delano Butler, former prosecutor, and current Georgetown University law professor. Business Insider is not a publication that I subscribe to, or even read. But I just happened to spot that headline a few days ago, which prompted a quick response from this old man: “Yes!” The article was written by Brendon Woods and Emily Galvin Almanza. Woods is the only Black chief public defender in California. Almanza is a former public defender and co-founder of Partners for Justice. Their main contention was this. From the Supreme Court on down, the country's judicial benches are occupied by fewer people who have fought for compassion over cages. For every public defender on the federal bench, there are four former prosecutors. We have had a similar beef over state courts right here in Ottawa County. When our most recent district judge was sworn in, media stories were complimentary, and rightly so. Just thirty-five years ago, Juanita Bocanegra was a migrant worker, born in Mexico, working in fields not far from her courtroom. Now, she’s the county’s first Latina judge. We add our congratulations. The only red flag to this story: One more time, we have a person on the bench with a prior history in the county prosecutor’s office. 7 of the 9 judges in Ottawa County spent earlier years in the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office! I was a reporter for nearly 30 years before getting into this prisoner advocacy business, and I have always contended that there is a “prosecutor mentality.” Here in conservative western Michigan, our prosecutors may not speak as bluntly as Paul Butler. But I’m convinced that once a prosecutor, always a prosecutor. In explaining why public defenders should be on the beach, the authors said, “Being a public defender is not a job, but an identity. It's an identity that prioritizes the needs of the most marginalized and makes sure that every person is fought for and empowered. Attorneys who share this identity believe that the people most impacted by structural racism and systemic harms are the people whose visions will bring us toward a new, more just world.” Public Defenders, are you listening? Right here, right now, there’s an imbalance in the justice scale. “If we want liberty and justice for all we have to demand it...and put judges on the bench who will do it.” Amen and Amen!

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