The Maui Police Department has a brand new armored truck. State law conceals the identities of active duty police officers who’ve been busted by Internal Affairs. Filming a cop on a public street–an act protected by the U.S. Constitution and has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court–will get you arrested and charged with a crime, as our publisher found out (his case is still pending).
Call it the militarization of society. And it’s not just happening to Maui, either.
“[W]e have become an over-policed society,” Esquire blogger Charles Pierce wrote on Aug. 28. “That minority citizens get the tip of the sword on this one is undeniable. That’s been the case with the law–and with police work–since the nation began. (Check the incarceration rates for drug offenses, if you don’t believe me.) But we are all now living as suspects in the eyes of too many people with too much power and too much technology and too much motivation to use the last two. We’re all suspects now. We’re all in this together.”
For many people who wind up in MPD cuffs, their only legal option is the Public Defender’s Office. Wendy Hudson has been with them for 15 years this January. As the supervisor, she handles felony cases as well as runs the office.
Back in 2009, MauiTime’s Greg Mebel wrote “Why the Maui Public Defenders Office is Hurting and Why It’s Bad For Us All,” about the toll massive spending cuts were taking on the Public Defender’s office. Last week, I visited Hudson at her office to find out what’s changed, for better and worse, in the one public office on the island dedicated to the rights of the accused.
“The reality of what we see on a daily basis–Hollywood could never top us,” Jim Rouse, who’s been an attorney at the PD’s office for 16 years, told me near the end of my visit. “Yes, it’s fun. It really is fun. It’s heavy, but the survival mechanism for a public defender is a sense of humor–an ability to make light of very serious, very heavy fact patterns.”
MAUITIME: Four years ago things were tough. How are things now?
WENDY HUDSON: [Governor Linda] Lingle had taken about 10 percent and had given us a furlough day. When [Neil] Abercrombie came in he took away the furlough day. In july, the state gave us back five percent.
This summer we got back to a full staff again of 14 attorneys. So come September, I will be able to not be in the courtroom full-time. I will still have my A felonies, but I’ll go from about 50 cases to 10. That means I’ll get to do admin stuff again.
MT: Do you experience high turnover?
HUDSON: It ebbs and flows. Last year we got two new attorneys. One retired and we got the 14th position.
If they’re young and single, a lot of time they don’t want to stick around. They’d rather be at the Oahu Public Defender, where it [Oahu] is more interesting. But when they get married, buy a house, they stick around.
I have an excellent group of attorneys right now. A really sharp group. There aren’t many complaints.
MT: What are your clients typically like?
HUDSON: Probably the majority of our cases are drug and alcohol-related, even if they’re not charged with drugs. The majority of our clients have substance abuse issues.
We need to focus more on the rehabilitation aspect or they’ll just continue to do what they’re doing. That’s why Drug Court is a good idea.
There’s one other thing: probably 85 percent of my clients, I’d have no problem if they came over for a barbecue. They’re decent, under-educated. They’re not bad people. They’re our neighbors. They’re in our community. They need support from the community.
MT: What should clients expect from your office?
HUDSON: With felonies, we go over discovery with them. We ask if there were any constitutional violations. It’s harder to get in to see people at the jail. We still try to get in every week or so to see felony cases.
But the client decides which way the case should go. We lay out the case, and we also investigate–we have a wonderful investigator, Allan Almeida, who used to be a sheriff. The client says trial or take a deal. We have dedicated attorneys–sometimes they want to go to trial but the client says no. Other times we have nothing but the client wants to go so we do it. Our main function is to go to trial.
One problem is that because we’re so busy we have to continue cases. We have to ask guys sitting in custody, do you mind waiving your right to a speedy trial?
MT: Can your office give clients an adequate defense?
HUDSON: I think we do the best we can with our limited resources.
MT: Like what?
HUDSON: For instance, we don’t have a powerpoint projector. The state gets up there [in court] with the powerpoint, but we have to use paper. Oahu has one, but we don’t have one.
Our server went down last year, and it turned out there was no backup. We lost lots and lots of data: motions, our brief bank. We got a new server, with a better back-up.
Yesterday our copier broke for two hours. But then again, the AC is working. A couple years ago, the AC wasn’t working. So we had to have the doors open during the summer.
We also got our cleaners back.
HUDSON: Yeah. We’re a state office, but we didn’t have cleaners for three years. They stopped paying them so they quit. They told me there weren’t approved cleaners on our vendors list, but I saw other state offices getting cleaned.
It was gross and absurd. One of our staff filed an OSHA complaint. After that, we got cleaners.
But I could still use more attorneys.
MT: Why has it been so tough to get adequate resources?
HUDSON: We’re in Budget and Finance–they couldn’t stick us in the AG’s office, after all–with the bean counters. It’s really difficult to get them to pay for things.
MT: None of this sounds easy. Why have you stayed so long?
HUDSON: I was ready to leave during the recession. But I just didn’t want to leave and have someone else clean up the mess. I don’t even know if I have to stay 20 or 25 years to get a pension.
Every day is still a challenge. I still like upholding the constitution.
We’re still filing motions to suppress–that’s all constitutional. If they [the police department] would just follow the law, they’d get more convictions. They say they have probable cause to stop someone–“Oh, he didn’t use his blinker.” Really? I guess more training would be helpful, but the younger ones get trained by the older ones. We’ll win motions to suppress but nothing happens to the cops.
MT: How successful are you at these motions?
HUDSON: We’ll subpoena cops’ personnel record, and the Corporation Counsel will say no. We’ll say yes, and then a judge will look at it. It’s an extra layer we have to go through. And when we do get it, we can’t talk about it.
Maybe they [the Maui PD] just doesn’t understand our rights–the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment. I’m sure more training would never hurt. It would help us all.
MT: How are relations between you and the MPD?
HUDSON: I cross-examined a cop in District Court years ago. It was just regular cross-examination. Later I saw him at an intersection and he gave me stink-eye. Another officer refused to get in the elevator with me after I cross-examined him. He announced loudly, “I’m not getting into the elevator with you.”
But there are others who are polite, who always do their jobs and don’t hold grudges.
Even though we know our rights, it can be a bit uncomfortable. It’s a small island. I’d like to think everyone can be professional.
MT: That raises an interesting question for me: How do you explain what you do to others?
HUDSON: I say that I may not like my clients, but even when it’s a heinous crime, I still stand for the constitution. If the state can’t prove it, they can’t prove it. If the guy is a career criminal, they’ll get him the next time.
People will say to me at a party, “oh, they just got off on a technicality.” No! It’s the constitution. It could be you there, and you need the constitution on your side.
MT: Do you have fun doing this?
HUDSON: Every day. We have a lunch room that will only officially seat four but we jam in eight. Talk includes sex, drugs and rock and roll, but also law. Everyone is bright. We support each other. We’re not really competitive–it’s good fun.
MT: What’s your workload like?
HUDSON: I’ve had full-time courtroom assignments for the last five years. That’s five days a week.
We help everyone in custody, as well as my regular cases. Usually everything is done by noon in court. Pre-trial conferences vary–mine is 3pm on Thursdays. That’s where the judge is trying to figure out what’s going on with each case.
Monday is trial call. Jail visits happen weekly, but it depends on whether you can get one hour, two hours. It’s been hard lately to get appointments.
MT: Why is that?
HUDSON: I’m not sure. In the appointment, we have to go over not only pretrial discovery, but go over a two-page change of plea form.
If I called today, I wouldn’t get an appointment for two to three weeks. Then you have to meet at the cell block amidst the cacophony there.
MT: What’s the work situation like for the attorneys?
HUDSON: It depends. District Court is different than Circuit Court, which is different from Family Court. District Court has two attorneys who handle 1,200 cases a year on average. Last year our District Court attorneys did 5,400 cases.
A lot of it is traffic–like driving without a license or no-fault insurance, which you either did or you didn’t do. A lot of those cases we call “churn and burns”–they come up all the time because the police are always citing people. There are also disorderly conducts, assaults in the third degree–it’s a pretty heavy caseload. And District Court attorneys are in court pretty much all day long.
It all comes down to when cops write the citations. Cops are told what court dates to write in, but some don’t seem to get the message. So you’ll see 100 cases for one day, and like 10 for another.
The attorneys could have four to five trials a week. But there are no juries, and they don’t take weeks.
There are also custodies–guys arrested for manini things. The attorneys have to get through custody court.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are our intake times–when we have to interview clients. Hopefully we have a police report…
MT: You don’t always have a report?
HUDSON: No, it doesn’t always happen. There’s just so many… I don’t think it’s because the prosecutor is being a jerk. There’s so many that we just don’t get it.
MT: What about your attorneys covering Circuit Court?
HUDSON: Family Court is now in Circuit Court. Judge [Richard] Bissen gets felonies and all domestic violence cases. Have two attorneys in there who do both. Again, it’s more of a churn and burn kind of thing. Last year, there were 1,100 Circuit Court cases. We do conflict out of some of them. But generally there are about 170 new felony cases per courtroom a year, split between two attorneys. And that’s just new pretrial cases. Also, probation violations–had about 370 of those last year.
Oh, we also have one Drug Court attorney. Covers hearings plus a full felony caseload. And we have a juvenile attorney, who usually has 300 new cases a year.
We’re just busy.
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Got any old books lying around? If you drop them off at the Maui Public Defenders’ office (81 N. Market St., Wailuku), they’ll donate them to the Maui Community Correctional Center inmate library. “There aren’t very many programs for pretrial inmates but they can check out books,” says Wendy Hudson.
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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET ARRESTED:
1. Don’t give a statement. Tell the police your name and birthdate, but don’t make a statement.
2. Ask for a lawyer. The police have to stop asking questions when you ask for a lawyer.
3. Don’t concede to a search of your cars, bags or home.
4. Don’t be rude. Be polite. Know that they can only hold you 48 hours without charging you. If you are charged, don’t give a statement. Don’t waive your right to be silent.
5. When you do get a lawyer, don’t lie. Tell your lawyer everything.
-AP [SOURCE: Maui Public Defender Wendy Hudson]