State Attorneys General

 State Attorneys General. Each state has an attorney general who serves as its chief legal official. In most states

this official is elected on a partisan statewide ballot. The attorney general oversees a staff of attorneys who primarily handle the civil cases involving the state. Although the prosecution of criminal defendants is generally handled by the local district attorneys, the attorney general’s office often plays an important role in investigating statewide criminal activities. Thus, the attorney general and his or her staff may work closely with the local district attorney in preparing a case against a particular defendant. The state attorneys general also issue advisory opinions to state and local agencies. 

Often, these opinions interpret an aspect of state law not yet ruled on by the courts. Although an advisory opinion might eventually be overruled in a case brought before the courts, the attorney general’s opinion is important in determining the behavior of state and local agencies. Private Lawyers in the Judicial Process In criminal cases in the United States the defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney. Some jurisdictions have established public defender’s offices to represent indigent defendants. In other areas, some method exists of assigning a private attorney to represent a defendant who cannot afford to hire one. Those defendants who can afford to hire their own lawyers will do so. In civil cases neither the plaintiff 

nor the defendant is constitutionally entitled to the services of an attorney. However, in the civil arena the legal issues are often so complex as to demand the services of an attorney. Various forms of legal assistance are usually available to those who need help

Assigned Defense Counsel. When a private lawyer must be appointed to represent an indigent defendant, the assignment usually is made by an individual judge on an ad hoc basis. Local bar associations or lawyers themselves often provide the courts with a list of attorneys who are willing to provide such services. Private Defense Counsel. 

Some attorneys in private practice specialize in criminal defense work. Although the lives of criminal defense attorneys may be depicted as glamorous on television and in movies, the average real-life criminal defense lawyer works long hours for low pay and low prestige. The Courtroom Workgroup Rather than functioning as an occasional gathering of strangers who resolve a particular conflict and then go their separate ways, lawyers and judges who work in a criminal court room become part of a workgroup. The most visible members of the courtroom workgroup — judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys — are associated with specific functions: Prosecutors push for convictions of  those accused of criminal offenses against the government, defense attorneys seek acquittals for their clients, and judges serve as neutral arbiters to guarantee a fair trial. 

Despite their different roles, members of the courtroom workgroup share certain values and goals and are not the fierce adversaries that many people imagine. Cooperation among judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys is the norm. The most important goal of the courtroom workgroup is to handle cases expeditiously. Judges and prosecutors are interested in disposing of cases quickly to present a picture of accomplishment and efficiency. Because private defense attorneys need to handle a large volume of cases to survive financially, resolving cases quickly works to their advantage. And public defenders seek quick dispositions simply because they lack adequate resources to handle their caseloads. A second important goal of the courtroom workgroup is to maintain group cohesion. Conflict among the members makes work more difficult and interferes with the expeditious handling of cases. 

Finally, the courtroom workgroup is interested in reducing or controlling uncertainty. In practice this means that all members of the workgroup strive to avoid trials. Trials, especially jury trials, produce a great deal of uncertainty given that they require substantial investments of time and effort without any reasonable guarantee of a desirable outcome. To attain these goals, workgroup members employ several techniques. Although unilateral decisions and adversarial proceedings occur, negotiation is the most commonly used technique in criminal courtrooms. The members negotiate over a variety of issues — continuances (delays in the court proceedings), hearing dates, and exchange of information, for example. Plea bargaining, however, is the most critical tool of negotiation.

Legal Services for the Poor Although criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled to be represented by a lawyer, those who are defendants in a civil case or who wish to initiate a civil case do not have the right to representation. Therefore, those who do not have the funds to hire a lawyer may find it difficult to obtain justice. To deal with this problem, legal aid services are now found in many areas.

 Legal aid societies were established in New York and Chicago as early as the late 1880s, and many other major cities followed suit in the 20th century. Although some legal aid societies are sponsored by bar associations, most are supported by private contributions. Legal aid bureaus also are associated with charitable organizations in some areas, and many law schools operate legal aid clinics to provide both legal assistance for the poor and valuable training for law students. In addition, many lawyers provide legal services “pro bono publico” (Latin for “for the public good”) because they see it as a professional obligation. 

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