It started when “James from Webster” called into a WGBH-FM radio show complaining that his criminal defense lawyer hadn’t called him back.
His call so angered Rollins, a guest on the show, that she launched into a tirade against public defenders, labeling them “overwhelmingly privileged.” She said the staff at the Committee for Public Counsel Service claim they are too overworked and busy to return calls from their poor, Black, and brown clients.
“When you hear in my voice my disgust and outrage about CPCS not calling people back — their overwhelmingly privileged staff that aren’t calling back poor, Black, and brown people because they’re saying they’re overworked and busy. It’s my people who are losing no matter what. I’m not going to sit silently on this.”
"I’m not going to let these defendants suffer in silence because their criminal defense lawyers, who are paid by our tax dollars, refuse to answer their calls,” she said.
Her comments, on Boston Public Radio Thursday, touched off a firestorm among defense lawyers, who have been some of her staunchest political supporters.
The CPCS chief counsel, Anthony J. Benedetti, whose group provides lawyers to poor defendants, responded with an angry letter the next day. Her comment, he said, “strikes directly at the heart of our organization.
“These unprovoked attacks on your fellow attorneys did not go unnoticed, and I am afraid you may have alienated some who believed in your campaign promises and then found themselves in the crosshairs of an off the cuff diatribe.”
Rollins was elected in 2018 on a promise of bringing greater equity to the legal process. She called for reduced prosecution of relatively minor offenses and denounced structural racism in the court system, winning admirers among public defenders. But on Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s show Thursday, she had little but criticism for public defenders’ work.
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