Indefensible is a double-edged sword, one which David Feige wields with astonishing diplomacy, considering the disparate perspectives represented and the challenging topic he has chosen. Feige brings forward some of the most colorful, unique, sometimes pitiable and often downright disturbing characters he has experienced on both sides of the South Bronx legal system. It is obvious, chapter upon chapter, that David Feige is a skilled observer of human character, a trait which serves him particularly well as an author just as it did as a defense attorney. Indefensible is well-written, focused, thorough, and brutally honest.
Indefensible requires readers to pay attention and to weigh carefully the evidence proffered in respect to the South Bronx legal system. They will likely find themselves, as I did, shaking their heads in utter disbelief at the events he recounts. Certainly, the book raises questions. How does a system become so overburdened that it feels compelled to all but ignore the constitutional mandate that one is innocent until proven guilty, and where is the accountability for those who guard, prosecute, and sit in judgment in the South Bronx? Feige points out that there are judges and prosecutors serving within the system who still possess a sense of compassion and a willingness to ferret out the truth, yet he is equally quick to point out those are the exception rather than the rule. The odds of the accused being found guilty, or being forced to plead so even if innocent, are far greater than the odds of being acquitted. What makes those judges and prosecutors different from the others?
Feige says they are "constantly aware that they are judging cases involving living, breathing, complicated people. Moreover, they realize that their judicial decisions are important not just to their own careers, but to the lives of the defendants, the victims, and the community." Judges like Mogulescu and Cirigliano, to name two, are the last glimmers of hope some defendants have in the South Bronx. Still, it's a crap shoot. If their case isn't on the docket of one of these more compassionate judges, then the defendants still have public defenders like David Feige and the men and women at the Bronx Defenders. They will face the inexpiable South Bronx legal system, work hard to secure their clients' freedom from the "justice" system, and at the very least, as Feige does over and over, make the best deal possible.
In a world of ever-increasing crime and depravity, a system of justice must be tough if any semblance of safety and order is to be maintained. But can "tough" be taken too far? Can toughness become indifference? Feige certainly seems to believe it can, and has, at least where he has practiced. Indefensible follows the author through one day in the life of a public defender, but by the end of it one day feels like a thousand. The writing is well crafted and the book hard to put down; Feige, the book's main character indeed, is an amiable and insightful companion for readers, an excellent tour guide. Readers may want to put on their track shoes before starting. Feige will have them doing wind sprints between courtrooms, holding cells, and his office in an effort to keep up with the freight train that was his public defender practice. It's easy to understand, from the stories he tells, why burnout is such a problem for public defenders and why few last more than three years before moving on to greener, and certainly better paying, pastures. David Feige lasted almost fifteen years. A tribute to his dedication to his clients and his willpower.
And what, ultimately did those years cost him? Does he still hold the same belief in the system of justice that he had when a young lawyer? You'll have to read the book to get that answer. Certainly, his clients were better off for his having been there, but is David Feige better for having invested those years - and just what kept him coming back year after year?
"It is because success is so often elusive that the essential challenge in much of public defender work is finding lasting satisfaction amid constant failure."
There are lessons in humanity, inhumanity, compassion, indifference, justice and injustice to be gleaned from Indefensible, and it is certainly a book to be kept and reread occasionally if for no other reason than as a reminder in how to stay human doing work that tries to drive all humanity from you and make hate your own emotions. I give Indefensible five out of five stars. David Feige has earned them – and many more.