Life as a Public Defender

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. -- I stood in the clothes closet at the Public Defender's office clueless. It's early in May, and I am looking for an outfit for a client but I have no idea what size will fit him. His booking sheet says he is 5'9" and 202 pounds. After a few minutes of rooting through the clothes I realize that knowing his size won't matter because the options are limited.

Kim Segal

My client is incarcerated. He needs clothes for his trial, the day we will fight his possession of cannabis charge. My client doesn't have any friends or family that can drop off clothes at the jail so I have to figure out a way to dress him for his day in court.

My last client who needed clothes was not in jail but he didn't own anything suitable to wear in front of a jury. I ended up going to Goodwill to buy a few things that would fit him. I will never forget my client's reaction after he put on the button-up white polo shirt and the pair of khaki pants I purchased for his day in court. He told me how good he felt in the clothes. He wanted to keep them. I wanted to let him keep them but I knew other clients would need to wear these clothes and on a public defender's salary I couldn't make buying trial clothes a habit.

The problem with keeping the PD's closet stocked is the clothes we give to our in-custody clients. After we drop clothes off at the jail we rarely see them again. The client wears them to trial and after that they either get released before signing the clothes back over to us or they are sent from the jail to a prison before the clothes are returned.

Kim Segal

The PD's clothes closet on this day is neat -- someone had been in there lately and straightened it up. There was a decent selection of shirts but it's the pants I had trouble finding. And as I had expected, it turned out that not knowing my client's pants size didn't matter since on this day only a few pair of pants were available. These pants were so old they didn't have tags with sizes in them.

I am curious, what does your closet look like? I am sure it's better than the one at the PD's office. Are there any pants, suits or button up shirts that spend more time on a hanger than on your body? Have things been in there so long that you are clueless about what still fits you?

Please, in the name of justice or in honor of an end-of-summer cleaning, whatever the reason, reach out to your local law office of the public defender. I promise they will put your old suits to good use!

The high profile trials of Manuel Noriega, Timothy McVeigh, OJ Simpson and George Zimmerman are among the important legal stories Kim Segal covered as a journalist for over two decades. While working as a producer for CNN, she began attending law school at night, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2005.

At 46, she left her television career for a position as a Public Defender in Broward County, Florida.

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