Sunday, March 24, 2013

John Adams, Meet John Adams.

March 5, 1770.  That was the Boston Massacre when British troops fired on a mob of American colonists.  The troops were charged with murder.  But who would defend them?

The answer, of course, was the fierce patriot (and later President) John Adams.
The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.
That fall he defended them with honor and diligence.  And, it must be added, with great success.  Despite the "Anxiety, and Obloquy enough."

Boston Massacre
President John Adams

Fast forward 343 years and move a couple of thousand miles west to Kootenai County, Idaho where the Public Defender is, yes, John Adams.  That's him on the left, next to his client, the reviled serial child-killer and rapist Joseph Duncan.

John Adams, defender of the much-hated British soldiers who shot the colonists, went on to become President.

John Adams, Public Defender, just got fired.  After 17 years.  Of apparently spectacular service. David Cole in the Doeur d'Alene Press has the story.
His office has been nationally recognized as the best office in the state.  He's recognized as one of the best lawyers in the nation.  Retired judge Craig Kosonen called the firing "disastrous" and described the decision by the County Commissioners to fire him as "inexcusable."  Bill Douglas, the former Kootenai County Prosecutor called the firing "shameful."

"John Adams has been the best public defender in the history of Kootenai County," said Douglas, who served as the county's prosecutor for 20 years. "He is the most qualified criminal defense lawyer that I know, and he has saved the county vast sums of money through the efficient running of his office."

Douglas said Adams is the most qualified death-penalty lawyer in Idaho, a tough adversary, and a dedicated and loyal public servant.
"Perhaps the commissioners didn't truly appreciate his abilities and talents," Douglas said.

"He will be impossible to replace."

He called Adams' firing the result of "unnecessary meddling by the commissioners."
So what happened?

Jai Nelson.  By all accounts, until she was elected as one of the County Commissioners in 2010, Adams was understood by the Commissioners to be doing a terrific job.  Then Nelson was elected and gave him "marginal" evaluations.
In October, Adams responded to Nelson's evaluation of his performance, writing that in the past 16 years he had received evaluations "laudatory of my work as the public defender until you came to work for the county and then the evaluations of my work have been steadily in decline."
What exactly was the problem?  I'm not on the ground in Idaho.  I don't know Adams.  I've never even heard of Nelson before this.  But there are basically two reasons highly effective and deeply respected public defenders get fired after years on the job.  Either it's personal or it's political.

But when you're talking about people who hold public office and are required, by the nature of the office, to be independent and to continually advance the cause of those who have no political power - well, as we used to say back in the day, the personal is political.

One of the problems with public defender offices is that they're part of the government.  However much independence they actually manage to have (and to do their job properly, they must be independent), there's always someone looking over their shoulders.  The hope is that it's someone who understands the job and respects quality.  For 16 years in Kootenai County, that's apparently what John Adams had.

Then came Jai Nelson.

She is, said, David Duchame, a local trial lawyer, "a wannabe lawyer."  Which suggests that she thinks she knows how public defenders should be doing their job.  And it's not, by her lights, by standing up with and fighting for their clients.

What we know about John Adams, Public Defender of Kootenai County, Idaho is that he's done a terrific job.  As Scott Greenfield said this morning, they ought to build a statue to him.


Did I mention that three weeks ago, Adams made a formal complaint against Nelson charging her with harassing him?  (No, I don't know exactly what that means.  Cole doesn't specify in his article.)  Did I mention that two weeks ago he told the Commissioners that he has cancer and will have to take a day off each week for chemotherapy?

Did I mention that he got fired?  For doing his job.  Really well.

John Adams, the one who defended the British soldiers?  He would have understood.  For him, "Anxiety, and Obloquy enough."  And then he was elected President of the United States.

For his namesake?


  1. These knuckle heads forgot to put your name on this list ...

  2. Math error: 343 years should be 243 years. :-)