Clients Rarely a Threat to Public Defenders, but Concern Exists - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

01/18/06

Clients Rarely a Threat to Public Defenders, but Concern Exists

Michael Schiavone Michael Schiavone

Michael Hostilo, the Statesboro attorney held hostage for over 24 hours (Suspects Charged with Kidnapping After Standoff), used to work as a public defender. While his situation is not too common, it's situations like that attorneys in this line of work are concerned about.

We spoke with Michael Schiavone, a local criminal defense attorney who has taken several court-appointed cases. He says there is concern about clients taking their anger out on them, not to mention that public defenders don't always get to choose the clients they represent.

Ask any defense attorney and they'll likely tell you their job isn't easy. While attorneys being taken hostage is a rare occurrence, Schiavone says there have been times when he's questioned his own safety.

"It was a murder case that occurred here in Chatham County, but he was also in custody for multiple murders in St. Louis," Schiavone told us of one client. "He probably is the only person I can recall that I had concerns about."

Schiavone also says the cases that tend to test a client's character the most are those involving domestic disputes and divorces.

"The emotions are running so high between two people that often times, people feel that everything they've worked for is either going to be destroyed or taken away from them and then they feel desperate," he said.

Desperate like Robbie Brower must have felt when Brower told police that he was upset with Hostilo, blaming him for botching his defense in a case more than 11 years ago.

But despite this bizarre chain of events, Schiavone says clients threatening the lives of their attorneys is rare. "It's happened in the past and it's very serious when it does happen, but I think these are the rare exceptions [rather] than the norm."

Schiavone says after practicing law for the past 26 years, it is surprising that he's never even received a verbal threat.

Reported by: Nicole Teigen, nteigen@wtoc.com

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