March 18, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states are required under the 14th Amendment to provide counsel to criminal defendants who cannot afford a private attorney. I don't practice criminal law and I never really gave that case much thought after law school, but several news items over the past couple of weeks have made me think about it more.
I read an article last week that praised the Gideon ruling, but at the same time lamented the sad state of most public defenders' offices. The lawyers are overworked, underpaid, and sometimes incompetent, the article alleged. While they may be overworked and underpaid, it is completely unfair to categorize public defenders as incompetent.
Tom McCullough is a public defender. He is the public defender of DeKalb County. He was formerly the Kane County public defender. He has handled some of the highest profile murder cases in the Fox Valley area over the past several decades.
Tom McCullough is a heck of a lawyer. Recently, he represented William Curl, who was arrested for the murder of NIU student Toni Keller. That case was all over the news last week when Mr. Curl entered a guilty plea in exchange for a 37 year sentence. Since he has already served nearly three years, he will be released in approximately 34 years.
Following the entry of the plea, several lawyers involved in the case gave interviews on the courthouse steps out in Sycamore. I have placed a link below to Tom McCullough's interview. It's only about three minutes long and it's worth it.
Here is the link to the interview: "Public Defender Tom McCullough Talks Curl Plea Deal"
When I saw that interview, I immediately thought about that article that I mentioned earlier. I also thought about a lot of other interviews I saw last summer by private lawyers. Anybody who wouldn't want Tom McCullough as their lawyer just because he's a public defender must be crazy. Just watch the interview. He's as cool as they come.
Just think what could happen if you hired a private lawyer. You might get this guy: