An Interview with ‘Making a Murderer’ Defense Attorney Jerry Buting


Millennial writer Mike Jordan Laskey has a new, exclusive interview with Jerry Buting at NCR:

Do you see any overlaps between the values at the heart of your work and those at the heart of your faith?

My wife and I both look at our careers as more of a vocation than a job. Jesus reached out to the underclass of society, including the poor, mentally ill and imprisoned, and so did we. They are humans the same as anyone, but often are cast aside by the rest of society. Unfortunately, society doesn’t want to provide the financial and other resources for those who are charged with or convicted of crimes.

What has happened in Wisconsin to indigent defense during my career is illustrative. The staff public defenders are salaried attorneys with good support staff and training, even if they have caseloads that are too high. But only about 60 percent of indigent defendants are represented by staff public defenders; the rest are appointed to private lawyers who agree to take those cases.

When I came to Wisconsin in 1981, those private, appointed attorneys were paid $45 per hour for time in court, $35 for out-of-court time. They had to pay all overhead, clerical, insurance, etc., costs out of that fee.

Now, almost 35 years later, those lawyers are paid only $40 per hour, way below overhead costs alone for any good lawyer. Wisconsin, once a shining example of progressive ideas, now has the lowest hourly rate of any state in the country, including traditionally poor Deep South states. It’s a disgrace and an embarrassment, but repeated efforts to get the legislature to increase the rate have failed, because the public assumes all defendants are guilty and it’s a waste of money….

What did you learn about our society through your participation in the Steven Avery trial?

There are so many lessons presented in the documentary ‘Making a Murderer,’ and the viewers have to decide which ones to take to heart: The effect of media portrayals of guilt before a trial begins, the tendency to uncritically believe whatever narrative law enforcement and the prosecution disseminate, the abandonment of the presumption of innocence, the casting aside as worthless those fellow human beings who are different than us and somehow ‘beneath’ us, the effect of class and money and power in a criminal case, the unlimited resources of the government that can be brought to bear against the individual…

Read the full interview here.