UNM alumni defense attorneys are "key part of justice system"

October 11, 2016 - Tamara Williams

Defense Thumbnail

SCHMIDT-NOWARA: Defendants deserve zealous representation.
caption from the Albuquerque Journal

Molly Schmidt-Nowara (’01), an Albuquerque attorney and adjunct professor at the UNM Law School and Santa Fe attorney Trace Rabern (’96) were featured in the Albuquerque Journal Upfront column Defense attorneys key part of justice system on October 10th.

Writer Joline Gutierrez Krueger describes defense attorneys as having the crucial role in the criminal justice system of uncovering the other side of the story and to defend their clients. Meanwhile, they are misunderstood, maligned and have a terrible reputation.

Krueger says, “We believe we are innocent until proven guilty yet decry the folks who work to make this a reality.”

She quotes Schmidt-Nowara and Rabern:


RABERN: Defense work keeps system from getting sloppy.
caption from the Albuquerque Journal

“I can’t even tell you how many occasions I’ve been asked how do you sleep at night, how do you live with yourself, how can you be in the same room with these people, there must be something wrong with you – all these moral judgments,” said Molly Schmidt-Nowara, an Albuquerque attorney and adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “But this is why we have due process, why we have this amazing Constitution and Bill of Rights. We don’t leave justice to a mob of people inflamed by heinous accusations.”

Santa Fe lawyer Trace Rabern also has spent years defending her profession.

“I’ve been asked how I sleep at night, and the thing is there have been times I couldn’t sleep a lot, not because of who I was defending but whether I was doing a good job of defending,” she said.

Think of the system, Rabern said, as a three-legged stool, the legs representing judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. Lose any one of those legs and the stool falls.

“It’s an adversarial system that only works if there is zealous representation on all sides,” she said. “Otherwise, the system tends to get sloppy.”

Such zealous representation aims to ensure that a defendant loses his or her freedom only when there is enough evidence to justify it, and that serves to protect us all.

“As one of my favorite mentors used to say, ‘Everyone hates a defense lawyer until they need one,’ ” Schmidt-Nowara said. “But I believe every person has a right not just to have a vigorous defense but to have a lawyer who tries to see that piece of humanity that exists within them and to expose that to the court. As controversial as this sounds, it is a privilege to go into court and ask for mercy, and expose the better angels or the humanity in a person even if that person is being vilified by the public.”

Krueger concludes, “Here is my hope that you don’t have to learn this firsthand, but that you learn it nevertheless.”