LETTER- Public Defender not inferior

Lindsay Barnes' article on the acquittals of Richard Silva and Blair Austin quotes Silva as being grateful he could afford to hire his own attorney ["Couple cleared: High-profile police brutality case ends," December 6]. Silva states that anyone unable to afford an attorney "would have accepted a guilty plea" instead of fighting the case. Unfortunately, Silva's statement perpetuates the misconception that court-assigned lawyers are lazy incompetents who cop pleas whether the client has a fighting chance in court or not.

In Charlottesville and Albemarle County, most indigent defendants are assigned to the public defender office. I can assure you that lawyers in the public defender office are hard-working, skilled, and well-trained criminal defense specialists who have high ethical standards. We care about our clients and welcome a courtroom showdown when it is in the client's best interests. 

Of course there are times when a guilty plea can produce a better outcome than fighting the case in court. When that happens, the client's decision to plead guilty is made only after the attorney carefully investigates the case, fully considers all possible defenses, and helps the client weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a guilty plea. 

Clients who are unable to afford a private attorney do not receive inferior representation when they are assigned to the public defender office.  

Jim Hingeley
Public Defender