Sophia Moore is one of four public defenders in Summit County. (Courtesy of Sophia Moore.)
Sophia Moore is one of four public defenders in Summit County. (Courtesy of Sophia Moore.)

In the United States, even if you cannot afford a lawyer, you will have one defending you and your rights.

The 1963 Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright ruled that the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights requires the government to provide free legal counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases.

Summit County has two public defenders, Paul Quinlan and John Johnson. In addition, the County has two other defenders, Sophia Moore and Asa Kelley, who generally (but not exclusively) work in juvenile court, dealing with the delinquency of minors as well as child-welfare cases.

"I want well-qualified public defenders," said Summit County Attorney David Brickey, who said those in Summit County fit the bill.

Paul Quinlan is one of four public defenders in Summit County. (Courtesy of Paul Quinlan.)
Paul Quinlan is one of four public defenders in Summit County. (Courtesy of Paul Quinlan.)
"It adds credibility and builds confidence in the community."

In order to eliminate potential conflicts of interest when the county is prosecuting a case and to maintain independence, the budgeting and oversight for public defenders belongs to County Clerk Kent Jones, Jones said. At one point, there was a third public defender who primarily worked in Justice Court on a part-time basis, Jones said.

But Brickey said that even if the public defenders won't come out publicly and say they need more funding, the workload for public defenders is heavy and unrelenting.

"The county has always been frugal in its resources," Brickey said. "I would prefer to have more public defenders.


" In contrast to more than four prosecutors in criminal cases in the County Attorney's Office, there are only two public defenders -- Quinlan and Johnson -- who handle the vast majority of the work load, and both have other responsibilities. For example, Quinlan is active in drug court -- an alternative to jail for substance users -- and Johnson serves in Justice Court every Tuesday.

"Brickey works his butt off," said Johnson. "We do the same thing."

Quinlan, a graduate of the University of Utah's law school in 1990 after spending a few years as an admitted ski bum, said that while he knew he wanted to go to law school, he didn't know immediately that he wanted to be a public defender. "I didn't go to law school because I had a burning desire to defend the downtrodden and free the wrongly accused," he joked. "I went to law school because I was tired of skiing every day."

Quinlan found that in law school and in the first few years as a practicing attorney, criminal law was more exciting than civil litigation. "I felt like I was doing something positive," he said. "There's a lot more finality, closure. You could get things done. I felt like I was making a difference."

Quinlan has been a public defender in Summit County since 2005, and he has made his mark by being active in the County's drug court. He even did his work in the drug court uncompensated for the first two years of the program, which he sees as "a different way of solving problems." He added, 'It's grown to something that I'm proud of."

Johnson has worked in the County's public defenders' office since April, after being a prosecutor in the state Attorney General's office and then a Salt Lake County prosecutor for 17 years. In fact, as a prosecutor he had often battled against Quinlan on the opposite side of the aisle, but they have known each other for two decades and are good friends.

Johnson said he enjoys the challenge of being a public defender, having worked as a prosecutor in the past. "I know what needs to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

Drugs are just as much a problem as they were 30 years ago, Johnson said. Many of his cases involve drugs or alcohol, saying that he has seen people "who are a hollow shell of who they used to be."

Regardless, Johnson said, "The only thing I can predict is that I'll do my best." Every case is challenging, he said. "Nothing's easy."

Moore has been an attorney since 1997 and began her career in juvenile court as a public defense attorney. She is now a private practitioner located in Salt Lake City and does a mixture of public defense and private practice. "I am honored to serve my clients by advocating for them to the best of my ability as their attorney."

She has wanted to be a public defender since she was 11 years old. "I love helping the community and its people," she said.

In court, Moore handles everything from adoptions to child-welfare to defending juveniles charged with offenses in juvenile court. She said the toughest part of her job is when juveniles are tried as adults, or when trying to convince the courts that juveniles need to be adjudicated in juvenile court, rather than as adults. Juveniles under 18 generally aren't able to think about the consequences of their actions, she said.

Over the years, Moore said there has been a rising trend of juvenile cases involving drugs or alcohol. Marijuana and alcohol use among juveniles takes up "a huge part of my cases," she said, "I'm sad to say."

The best parts of her job often come when she enables children to come home successfully with parents who have resolved their issues. Moore said she likes to follow her former clients as they reach milestones in their lives, such as doing well in school and graduating from high school.

Moore, like Kelley, is often asked to assist Quinlan and Johnson in criminal cases, especially when there are more than two defendants in any given case.

In addition to working as public defenders, Kelley and Moore juggle their public responsibilities with private practices.

Kelley is a graduate of Michigan State University and the law school at the University of Toledo, but found himself in Utah because of a love of skiing.

He was drawn to law for two reasons. For one, he was enthralled in high school with the books of famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey, and in college he found that he was fond of debating -- in other words, arguing, he said -- anything that came up.

Kelley said he loved his job. "I get to help those on the margins of society," he said. Plus, he said, "It keeps you sharp."

Being sharp is important for what Kelley considers his toughest and most complex cases: child-welfare issues that often involve having the child and the parents being separated from one another. But what is most challenging can also yield the greatest rewards, he said, because his greatest wins are seeing the children and families reunited, with issues resolved.

Like Moore, Kelley noted a trend that has risen over his career: the prevalence of drugs, which often impairs the well-being of children. "If there was ever a drug developed by the devil, it is meth," he said. "I've seen parents choose it over their children."

In the end, Johnson said, "I love to practice criminal law I tease my friends in civil law practices: you may make 10 times the money, but my stories are 100 times better."