I Don't Get Along with my Public Defender. What Should I Do?
This is a common sort of question that comes up now and again. Without more information, it is hard to know whether your concerns are grounded in some serious fundamental problem between you and the court appointed lawyer or whether it is more a transitory misunderstanding or series of miscommunications.
The set of all court appointed lawyers, like the set of all private lawyers contains a wide variety of lawyers with a wide variety of experience, skill, compassion, understanding, and workloads. Each set of lawyers contains, especially in New York City, a wonderful variety of backgrounds, including tremendous lawyers with upscale ivy league backgrounds and tremendous lawyers who have less fancy backgrounds. One of the most fascinating things about the criminal defense bar (public and private) is the amazing variety of people that end up part of it. There is not one single path to the goal of being a wonderful lawyer and the defense bar in New York City is a shining example of that.
To this end, there are lawyers working for the public defense organizations who I believe to be amazing, top of the line lawyers who I would be delighted to have represent me if, God forbid, I ever needed help.
At the same time, the fact that a person is private lawyer is not a guarantee of significantly greater skill or competence than a lawyer who chooses to work as a court appointed lawyer. You know how to become a private criminal defense lawyer? You pass the Bar Exam. The person who gets the lowest passing score on the Bar Exam and is admitted the next day is a private criminal defense lawyer if he wants to be. He has no experience, and maybe little in the way of courtroom skill. He could be your lawyer or you could have a court appointed lawyer with 15 years experience doing nothing but criminal cases in the very courtroom where you are being prosecuted.
So the issue doesn't boil down to whether or not the lawyer is paid by the Government (directly or indirectly) or by you. The issue is who is the lawyer, what sorts of experience does the lawyer have, and what sort of confidence do you have that the lawyer knows what to do or has the imagination to figure it out.
Now with this understood, sometimes people get upset with court appointed lawyers because their "bedside manner" may not be what they hope for in their lawyer. Maybe the lawyer is difficult to reach or maybe the lawyer is not terribly communicative during a particular court appearance. This is not necessarily proof that the lawyer is bad or not doing his job. Sometimes, this can be a function of the lawyer knowing that nothing of particular substance is happening at this particular stage of the case so there really isn't a lot to talk to about in a mathematical sense. The person might wish to engage the lawyer in a lengthy discussion, but in the context of a day in Court, as opposed to an office meeting, the lawyer may not give a great deal of time, when there are other cases to handle in court the same day.
Another problem in this area is that often people misunderstand what is possible in an individual court appearance. Toward the beginning of a criminal case, appearances are mostly bureaucratic, related to the filing of motions and such - not exciting stuff. They expect their lawyer to scream bloody murder and shout "This whole courtroom is out of order" when in reality, theatrics like that, if they ever happen, won't happen until a hearing or more likely a trial. These are things that happen at the end of a case.
My suggestion is to be persistent. Make an appointment to sit down with your court appointed lawyer in his or her office, when there will be no pressure on the lawyer to run to other courtrooms. You may find that your impressions of your lawyer will change. If not, speak to lawyer's supervisor.