The View From Here

Get Involved

by Olcott Thompson, OCDLA President

Jan/Feb/Mar 2018 issue of The Oregon Defense Attorney

I hope everyone voted in the recent special election for Measure 101. The turnout for Measure 101 was historically low, but it passed. Voting is one very important way we help determine what our government does and how it governs. We need to be engaged in the governing process. That is what good citizens do.
OCDLA has been preaching for years how we all need to be in contact with our legislators. We do, but we also need to be in touch with our fellow citizens. As lawyers, we have expertise which most groups crave, and we also have a good idea of the struggles of people on the margins. It is that knowledge and the knowledge of the problems they face that we have unique insight about. One great way to do that is to join the governing organization of a group. There are lots of nonprofit organizations in every community that will gladly let us volunteer to help them, such as churches, athletic organizations, food banks, cultural and social justice entities.

By being part of the governance of a group we can talk about what we do as defense lawyers or investigators and why it is important. As my mother told me many times: have a ready answer about what you are doing right now, an interesting case or two, and why what you are doing is important. It took me a number of years before I finally followed her advice. I now talk about a past case or two that illustrates the problems our clients face, how they make poor decisions and have for years because that is what they were taught to do.

When people ask why I represent people like this, I tell them that a big part of my job is to make sure the government plays fair. The government must follow the law just as it expects of our clients. Most people of any political persuasion agree.
If we join the governance of a group, we can start talking about why certain things are important to our clients, such as discovery reform and grand jury reform—truly grass roots work but incredibly important to everyone. Imagine what our legislators would think if more than just lawyers started talking to them about grand jury reform or why public defenders need resources comparable with the prosecution.
We should use current events like the Bundy dismissal to help people understand why—as much as many people may not like the Bundys—what the government did was worse. How can we expect people to follow the law if the government won’t? The government should never come close to violating any law. Laws were created by the government, and of all entities it should follow them.

We need to reach out to “average” people, not just our legislators. Most people do not know what we do or why. I was amazed when talking to my priest recently that she did not know the substance of what I do. She is an experienced priest in a town with a large prison population, and she did not know that I (we) spend a lot of time talking to and helping our clients through bad times and helping them figure out what they should be doing with their lives; ministering to them. That is what we do, and we need to spread the word about it to as many people as possible. Otherwise they think we do what television shows us doing.

Get out there. Get involved in your community. Talk to people. It is also a great way to make sure you have a balanced perspective. It is all too easy to think people act like our clients when the only conversations we have are with our clients. Most people think and behave differently, and it is important we keep our perspectives refreshed.