Person of the Week

Sara Serot

Public Defender

As a professional, I do the best I can, let it go, and move on to help someone else. The criminal justice system can be mean and cruel. I was sad but quitting was not an option….onward and upward!!

1.  What led you to the mission of being a public defender?

I used to teach special education and being a public defender is like defending the people I used to teach.  My clients are poor people who are under educated, under employed, limited mentally, addicted, or emotionally challenged.  At a meeting for defense attorneys, I heard the speaker say the following,  “I am often asked how I can represent such evil people.”  I responded that my clients are not “evil”.  They are ordinary people whose lives have spun out of control.  The only truly “evil” people I have met are those who wear a business suit or black robe and use their position to abuse others.  Abuse of power is truly “evil”.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

My son was asked to describe his mother.  He said, “My mom is a freedom fighter.”  That’s what my mission means to me.  I want to be known as someone who fights for the rights of poor people and the less fortunate.

3.  What was your best day as a public defender?

I represented an African-American man in Jefferson County.  He was being tried on a murder charge.  Investigation proved that this man could not have done what he was charged with and I got the prosecuting attorney to drop the charges before trial. That was a great day.

4.  What was your worst day as a public defender and how did you survive?

I represented a 19 year old young man who had murdered during a robbery.  The State offered him a plea bargain of 30 years in prison.  The 19 year old  would have to serve 25.5 years before he was eligible for parole.   He refused the plea offer because thirty years seemed like the rest of his life.  He refused to plead guilty, there was no defense, and so we had to go to trial.  The morning of the trial, the judge gave the young man an opportunity to take the plea bargain.  The judge told the young man that once the jury was seated, he could no longer plead guilty.

We were having the trial.  The jury was picked and seated.  The judge allowed the young man to visit with his baby and the baby’s mother.  This was the first time the young man had ever gotten to hold his baby.  After the visit, my client told me that he decided to plead guilty and take the 30 years.  I informed the court, but the judge said no.  The judge forced us to go to trial and the young man was found guilty of murder 1st degree and was sentenced to life without parole.  That was one of my worst days.

Public defenders are court appointed attorneys and can’t withdraw or quit without permission from the judge. This judge was following the Supreme Court rules that say the court has discretion whether or not to allow a guilty plea after the jury is sworn in. I did what is required of a public defender…I zealously represented my client. Sometimes there is just no good defense, so the defendant either pleads guilty or has a trial. What the judge did was legal. As a professional, I do the best I can, let it go, and move on to help someone else. The criminal justice system can be mean and cruel. I was sad but quitting was not an option….onward and upward!!

5 Comments

  1. Continue to fight for what u believe in. You seem like a strong individual
    And the world needs more people like yourself..god bless you

    Reply

  2. You are doing such honorable work and I can see how difficult this work can be when a person’s life experience is being determined by people in court. Thank you for being there for people in need.

    Reply

  3. You do the work you do to let those who under functioning have a chance. How many times has someone given us a break that made a real difference? I suspect that your clients get very few breaks. Thank goodness for your work.

    Reply

  4. Judith Felch 01/30/12
    3:35 pm

    The feeling which I experienced when reading about Sara was one of deep gratitude for her compassion and dedication to this difficult mission. To me this is an example of unselfed love….of
    working for a greater sense of good…..but not letting “self” get pulled down with the enormity of the task. That would be my question….how does one remain joyous when there is a seemingly endless line of people to be defended for such sad crimes as Sara describes in her second story.

    Reply

  5. You are my hero. Not very many people are willing to help the disenfranchised. You are courageous and are so deserving of this award.

    Reply

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