10/24/2012 04:09 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Assembly Line Justice

In this week's Huffington, John Rudolf takes us inside the world of public defenders, the "workhorses of the legal system" putting in long hours for low pay to represent criminal defendants who cannot afford private lawyers.

By featuring a single public defender's office, Rudolf illustrates the lose-lose predicament many in the profession are facing: overworked, underfunded, and drowning in casework, public defenders are unable to adequately represent the clients who desperately need their services. Meanwhile, America's prisons and jails hold more people than any other country on earth.

Rudolf introduces us to Ed Olexa, a public defender in one of Pennsylvania's most beleaguered offices. Olexa's territory is Hazleton, the blue-collar city where he grew up -- and which he has watched deteriorate in recent years into a battleground of gangs. His clients are mostly young and mostly broke. Unable to post bail, many of them sit in jail, waiting for their court date. And once Olexa -- who is technically part-time but rises before dawn each morning and works weekends -- has the chance to actually represent them in their case, it's not in the slow and careful way he'd prefer, with more time spent with each client to explain details and consequences. Instead, it means afternoons representing 17 clients in a row before the same judge. "It becomes assembly-line justice," he says. "It's like a McDonald's drive-through -- just moving the bodies along."

Last year, after being singled out by a congressional legislature report for the "shocking deterioration" of its quality of work, Olexa's office rebelled, turning down hundreds of cases and demanding more resources from the county. And as Rudolf writes, other public defender offices are doing the same, suing states and counties that underfund them and then saddle the public defenders with mountainous caseloads that threaten clients' constitutional rights.

Elsewhere in the issue, Katie Bindley takes us inside a very different world -- that of lifestyle concierges, a growing industry encompassing everything from pregnancy planners to personal grocery shoppers for patients who have just had plastic surgery and don't yet want to be seen in public. It's a story of domestic outsourcing -- that is, outsourcing of tasks "once specific to the hotel industry."

The value, for many who avail themselves of these services, is that concierges not only follow orders but will also take the lead -- and in some cases make key life decisions their clients don't have time to make. As Carrie Starner Keenan, a concierge who coordinates home contracting projects, puts it, "these are busy people and they don't have time to get things handled."

One of those busy people is Amanda Jones, a San Francisco real estate agent who works seven days a week, and whose constellation of concierges includes a dog walker, closet organizer, personal stylist and work-related personal assistant. Her mantra? "It takes a village."

This piece first appeared in our FREE weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available in the iTunes App store.