Somewhere in a courtroom in Maryland, an attorney stands to represent a client who does not have the resources to pay. That will not make a difference in the quality of the service, and it shouldn’t. We will praise this selfless work. And we should.
As a society, we understand serving the indigent is fitting and right. Justice should be available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. This tremendous legal system of ours is complex and clients are dependant upon their attorneys to guide them through.
There are attorneys in Maryland who do not think a client’s rights are eradicated simply because of the nature of their crime. Joshua Treem – a founding partner of Schulman, Treem, Kaminkow, Gilden & Ravenell, P.A. – is one of those lawyers.
Treem started his career with the Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division and moved from there to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. After working in the criminal justice system it was only natural for him to open his own shop.
Over the years, Treem has represented a wide range of pro bono clients in both federal and state courts in Maryland as well as neighboring jurisdictions. It was not something he needed to think about.
“This is something that has always been natural for me, something that just needed to be done,” says Treem, who believes it is important to support the system and to make sure it keeps working.
Treem has accepted cases over the years from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU), which seldom takes on individual criminal cases. According to the ACLU staff who have worked with Treem over the years, he has been willing to provide pro bono representation of the highest quality to the ACLU’s clients. Whether representing a client arrested and imprisoned without due process, one jailed for speaking out in court or one whose private property had been improperly seized, Treem has always demonstrated “a fierce loyalty to his clients.”
But what do we as a community say when an attorney steps up to represent a client who has not simply lost property or freedom or had their rights violated – what do we feel about the right to a fair and vigorous representation when the crime is terrible and society suffers because of it? Treem has been there, too.
Death penalty cases, by their very nature, are stressful on the client as well as their attorneys. The trials involve many, many hours of preparation, and this intensity can last for months. The legal issues involved are complex and intricate. It can also be extremely rewarding. “In spite of the toll, it can also be some of the most satisfying work that an attorney can do,” admits Treem.
Not every attorney is allowed to do this work. Only those qualified by the federal court can be called on to represent clients who have their lives on the line. Having experience at the state level is not enough.
There are only about 15 or 20 death penalty-qualified attorneys in the state, but the list is made up of some of the best. “When you consider the quality of the work done by the lawyers on the panel, it really is extraordinary,” says Treem. “And it is driven by nothing other than the commitment of these attorneys to the process.”
The reality of a capital case is that the compensation offered by the courts does not begin to equal the cost of trial. The attorney “moved into the courthouse” for the duration and therefore cannot take on other cases. However, high stakes can bring out best efforts. “I look back at one of the capital cases I tried about seven years ago and I know it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done,” says Treem. “I reread some of the transcripts of the trial and it’s as fresh today as it was then.”
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Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the ProBonoResourceCenter of Maryland.