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April 2014

When our cover story writer Michael Estrin began working on "Pleading for Justice", he hoped to be a fly on the wall during negotiations between a Los Angeles County public defender and a prosecutor. However, he quickly realized that, thanks to attorney-client privilege, that wasn't in the cards. So he set out to find a public defender willing to talk on the record, which proved to be an unexpected challenge. "Usually lawyers are asking, 'How can we be profiled in a feature?' " says Estrin. Not so with PDs. "It wouldn't help them do their job."

After more than a dozen noes, Estrin found Elena Saris. Though she was initially wary of talking to a journalist, Saris eventually agreed to be interviewed and photographed - and she put him in touch with a former client who was willing to talk about his experience.

The resulting piece is an inside look at how the system really works in the biggest and oldest public defender's office in the country.

Estrin has a lot of respect for what public defenders do. "They have a certain type of mental toughness," says Estrin. "They're standing up for something probably no one believes in."

To learn more about the technical ins and outs of plea bargains, be sure to read this month's MCLE article ("Plea Bargaining Demystified").

On the civil side, contributing writer Pamela MacLean takes a look at the frequent use of anti-SLAPP motions in California ("Getting SLAPPed Around"). MacLean viewed the 1992 statute outlawing certain strategic lawsuits against public participation as "an extremely valuable tool that's very helpful to small organizations, individuals, and the news media who stand up to powerful companies, organizations, and individuals."

But after extensive reporting, research, and interviews, she acknowledges that it can get abused. "I don't think it's the majority of cases, but in a minority of instances it can cause a lot of mischief for legitimate lawsuits."

With a split in the various courts of appeal on how to apply the anti-SLAPP statute, MacLean notes that at some point the state Supreme Court will need to weigh in and address the issue.

And finally, this month we include an excerpt from our Legally Speaking interview series, in which a panel of experts imagine what would happen if someone very much like Edward Snowden were brought to trial in the United States ("The Trial of 'Edward Snowman,'"). California Lawyer's previous editor, Martin Lasden, and Evan Lee of UC Hastings law school organized the panel, which included former U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, and the New York Times's Charlie Savage.

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