Unspun: Lisa Gladden — ‘You have to extract justice’


Sen. Lisa Gladden and her dog, Chloe. (Kate Havard/The Washington Post)
March 8, 2013

Name: Sen. Lisa A. Gladden

Age: 49

Occupation: Senator — District 41 (Baltimore), Public defender

Hometown: Baltimore

What kind of dog is this?

Don’t mind Chloe. She’s rotten. Spoiled, too. I tell people she’s a mini-pit, but she’s a Shih Tzu.

You’ve been working on the death penalty repeal for a long time. How do you feel about the way it’s been moving?

Still cautiously optimistic. But there’s a change in the air. The world is just moving in a different direction. I was listening to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, and you know, the death penalty just has no place in the world he’s creating. The death penalty is unfair when it comes to the African-American community. The system is broken. The question is how you do it. What’s amazing is you hear these terrible stories about these people who were killed, what great people they were, and there’s nothing being done for their families. We don’t respect the families.

When did you first take up this issue?

About 10 years ago. The way I see it, all of this, it makes me think about lynching. It was something you use to terrify communities. It was a bad time in American history. How do you choose who should die? Because it’s not always the worst of the worst. It’s the guy who gets caught. And I know, because I’m a public defender, I work with the worst of the worst.

How has being a public defender affected your legislative style?

I know the real deal, and I’ll tell you this. They talk about how we need a death penalty for lifers who kill in prison. But lifers are the best prisoners. They’re not going to make problems for themselves, because they live there. It’s like cutting up your sofa. My clients are only there for eight years or so, so I expect them to do stupid stuff.

Have any of your cases really stuck with you?

Yes. There was a young mother. She was a student at Morgan, the baby was six-months-old, and it had a broken femur — and the baby isn’t going to be breaking a femur unless somebody snaps it. The question was where was the child going to live. And I said the child is going to stay with the mother. I’m telling the court, the sister of the mother is a nurse. She lives in Atlanta. The mother is gonna go live with the sister in Atlanta. So they go there. Two weeks to the day, I get this call that the baby’s dead.

They said the boyfriend, he broke the femur, he went down there too. It wasn’t mom. Now I keep thinking. I should have known. I’m just devastated. In court, the judge calls us in, come talk to me in chambers. I’m saying, I’m responsible, my hands are dirty. He said, “It’s not your fault. I made the decision to send that kid with her mother.” I had only been a lawyer two years. That baby looked like a doll.

What did you take from that?

When you do criminal defense, you have to extract justice even in a bad situation.

What is justice, to you?

Justice is everywhere, you just have to look for it. It’s not retribution. It’s not what I put into a situation; it’s what the situation was before I come into it. It’s not what I deserve; it’s what the community thinks is right. Good schools, good opportunities. Food on the table. That’s justice. It should come out of the ebb and flow of life. I think justice always prevails, if I do what I’m supposed to. That sounds Pollyannaish, though.

What do you do to relax?

I’m a bowler. I’m a very competitive bowler. Yeah, I’m very good, I can’t even lie about it. I’m close to 200. I need to do it more though. This summer I’m going back to bowling. I just like the hanging out of it. My dad made us learn when we were kids. He’s a teacher. He made us learn to bowl so that we could learn to add.

How long have you had your dog?

I bought her right before Snowmaggedon. She’s one of four Senate dogs. Stone, Jennings, Garagiola and me, we all have dogs in here. The dogs don’t get along. She’s made it clear she doesn’t like other dogs. She’s spoiled, doesn’t want anyone else to have attention. We had some 2nd Amendment people in here earlier, and she senses one guy is a dog guy, and she just jumped up in his lap. And I changed the subject, and we talked about dogs. Because I didn’t want to talk about guns. I think she makes the office sweeter.

Are you allowed to have pets in the building?

I got a call from the Senate President’s office asking not to bring dogs in here. But it’s either here or leave her in the hotel, and I think she’d tear up the hotel. Kennedy brought his dog to Congress.

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