What I Have Learned Working as a Pool Attorney in the Public Defender's Office in Morris County, New Jersey

I have been working as a pool attorney in the public defender's office, and I have some first-hand experience now with how the local court system (this is Morris County Superior Court and the Morris County Prosecutor's Office) deals with drug users/crimes.

I put some of the insights I have gathered into a letter to the Washington Post.

Washington Post, August 9, 1998, p. C6

A Drug-Users' Advocate

Dear Washington Post:

In the debate between Terry Hensley, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation [Free for All, July 25], and David Lewis and June Osborn, who argued for replacing prison for drug users with treatment [op-ed, July 20], Mr. Hensley says that, for the most part, only heavy drug dealers go to prison.

I work as a public defender in Morris County, an affluent suburb in New Jersey. All my clients are drug users. I leave messages for my clients at church drop-in centers because they don't have regular homes.

As I negotiate their fates, the prosecutor screams at me: "Stanton, every one of your clients is, according to you, some kind of victim."

I answer: "Why don't you get me some of the drug dealers with money? My clients are all people who are out there doing what they can — prostituting themselves, carrying drugs — simply to get a share to use."

Maybe I'm missing something, but looking over the daily stream of drug offenders I encounter, I don't think any of them has seen the 5.5 pounds of heroin (not to mention 3.5 tons of marijuana and 180 pounds of cocaine) that, according to Mr. Hensley, the Justice Department says are the average charged amounts for those in federal prison.

At the same time, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Osborn are wrong to fantasize that these street people are susceptible to ordinary treatment — one's life has to be organized to benefit from a treatment opportunity. But taking up my time, as well as the prosecutor's and the court's, parading the same pathetic lot of people through the criminal system is something Kafka could not exaggerate.

Stanton Peele
Morristown, N.J.