Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 2, Episode 27 - Public Defenders - full transcript

John talks about problems concerning public defenders in the American Judicial system, a Michigan state legislature scandal, Guatemala's unusual election, and Queen Elizabeth II and delivers a message from the Lady of Perpetual Exemption.

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Season II,
Episode 27

Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight" !

Thank you so much
for joining us.

I'm John Oliver. Just time
for a quick recap of the week

and we begin in Michigan,

the giant hand holding Detroit back
from trying to fight Canada.

This week, Michigan had
some political drama.

After a 14-hour session
at the state House,

Representatives Todd Courser and
Cindy Gamrat are no longer in office.

Representative Courser
announced his resignation.

This was at 3:12 this morning,
during that marathon session.

And then,
just about an hour later,

the House voted to expel
Representative Gamrat.

Kicked out of the state House
at 4:00 in the morning.

That is the legislative equivalent

of throwing all their shit out
on the lawn.

And let me explain
to you why they did that.

It's because these two staunch,
family-values Republicans

were fucking each other,

and according
to those in their office,

they were not being
that discreet about it.

There had been rumors about an
affair between the two of them

swirling around Lansing
for quite some time.

The staffers said that they spent
a lot of time in their back offices,

which are shut off
from the rest of the office.

She would bring him a pillow
and tuck him in, and a blanket.

They would take long walks
together during the day.

They would have these long, personal,
romantic hugs during the day.

Two things there.
First, no hug is romantic.

A hug is a brief high-five

between two sets of ideally
disinterested genitals.

And second, did you just say
she would tuck him in ?

Because that's gross.
Don't creep everyone out

with your weird Christian-rock
version of infidelity.

Just fuck like
normal terrible people.

So far, this is just
a run-of-the-mill sex scandal,

but this story starts to get
amazing when you learn

how Representative Courser attempted
to throw people off the scent.

State Rep Ted Courser admitted
to circulating an anonymous email

claiming he had been caught
with a male prostitute.

He did this apparently
in order to muddy the water

in case his affair with a fellow
state rep was exposed.

It's true. He sent an anonymous email
accusing himself

of a fake liaison
with a male prostitute

so no one would believe
the real liaisons he was having

with his own colleague.

That is the worst plan
I've ever heard,

and I'm including
trickle-down economics,

the pull-out method and the plot
of "The Parent Trap".

It gets better.
In his fake email,

Courser accuses himself of,
and I quote,

"male on male paid for sex behind
a prominent Lansing nightclub".

Which is already magnificent.

Only the best Lansing nightclub
for his fake gay hookup.

He then attacks himself

for being a bisexual,
porn-addicted sex deviant.

But it gets still better,

because the only reason we know
Courser wrote the email

is that one of his aides secretly
recorded him explaining his plan.

So, please enjoy
Todd Courser reading a draft

of his lurid email
to a bemused staffer.

His cock is hanging out all over
Lansing since the election.

Are you serious ? What are you
talking about ? That's ridiculous.

I have to say,
Todd Courser may have lost his job,

but he might have a bright future
as a Midwestern erotica author.

"His cock was hanging out
all over Lansing."

"His balls were as heavy
as the prize-winning pumpkins"

"at the Michigan State Fair."

"She was as wet as the waterwheel
at the Franklin Cider Mill, Michigan."

Unbelievably, as a local
news station suggested,

this may not even be the first time
that Courser has orchestrated

a poisonous attack on himself
for political gain.

There are now
new allegations that Courser

put out an attack ad that read
"Is Todd Courser a child molester ?".

He allegedly did this to gain sympathy
votes before the primary elections.

What ?

If that's true, it's not Todd
Courser that I'm worried about,

it's the Michigan voters
who saw that ad and thought,

"A man who's been falsely accused
of child molestation can't be all bad."

"He's got my vote."

So, let's move on to Guatemala,
a country you think about so little,

we're just going to leave up a map
of Central America

and make you look up
which one it is. Crack a book.

I'm not here to spoon-feed you
"What's Guatemala".

Last Sunday, Guatemala had an
election under unusual circumstances.

Polls have opened in Guatemala
to elect a new president

after months of political turmoil.

It follows weeks of protests

and the resignation
of President Otto Pérez Molina,

who was subsequently jailed
on corruption charges.

Their president
stepped down in shame

despite the fact he only had
four days left in office.

And usually, to leave office
so unceremoniously,

your cock has to be hanging out
all over Lansing, Michigan.

Now, in this week's election,

no candidate got enough votes
to win outright,

but the leading vote-getter
was a bit of a surprise.

Ballot counting went on overnight

and showed a wealthy businessman
and a former first lady both trailing

former TV comic Jimmy Morales,

who has never held
political office.

What you're seeing there is his days
of playing the character of a countryman

who almost became president.
It was a role he played.

Hey, I have absolutely
no problem with that.

Playing a role is as good
as real-world experience.

That is why, if our planet is
ever threatened,

we should send
Bruce Willis into space.

In fact, even if our planet
isn't threatened,

we should send
Bruce Willis into space.

That's the plan.

Now, there is going to be
a run-off election

in Guatemala in October,

but the people there seem less
than optimistic about their future.

I'm voting, but I don't agree with any
of the proposals from the candidates.

We only want the new president
to not be as bad as the last one.

Those are some low standards.

In fact, one of Jimmy Morales'
actual campaign slogans

was "neither corrupt nor a thief".

And it seems Guatemalans'
standard for presidents have now fallen

to the level of what Americans ask
of a Craigslist roommate.

"Look, just don't
steal my shit,"

"and I will pretend not to notice
that you watch me sleeping."

And finally tonight, the UK,
the only two letters that promise

more iciness and bad food
than these two.

Now, this week, the United Kingdom
experienced a moment of history.

Well, a lifetime achievement today
for Queen Elizabeth.

She is now Britain's
longest-serving monarch.

That's right. Elizabeth II has
the title of longest-serving queen.

Although the title
of fiercest queen still goes

to New York's own Kelsey Glamour.
You go, Kelsey !

You own that stage !

The queen marked her special day
by opening a train line in Scotland,

which one correspondent
used a little too well as a metaphor

for what she has actually achieved.

While the train used to inaugurate
the new line was a rolling anachronism,

she, somehow,
at 89 years old, is not.

But this day wasn't
about a train.

It was about a queen who
just keeps chugging along.

You cannot compare
Queen Elizabeth to a train.

For one thing,
people need trains.

Trains still serve a practical purpose
in the modern era.

You're being mean to trains.

That was the second most inadvertently
dismissive thing that reporter said.

In 63 years
and 216 days on the job,

you learn a thing or two
about how to do it.

If the requirement
is to be seen,

wear bright clothes
and a big hat

and try to look like
you're enjoying yourself.

She's standing
right behind you !

I know it's hard to tell,

because she's pointless, but still !

I will say, for the record, she has
not done too well over the years

in the whole "try to look like
you're enjoying yourself" department.

Her resting expression
is total contempt.

But you cannot deny,

she has worn the shit
out of a lot of hats,

from this one which resembles
the bar mitzvah cake

of Scarsdale's
youngest Prince fan,

to this one, which is what a Las Vegas
clown would wear

to space church,

to this one, apparently constructed
from the receipts

of all the stupid hats
she's ever bought

fashioned into
an even stupider hat.

Essentially, what I'm saying is,
congratulations, Your Majesty.

You have spent
63 years doing a job

that could've effectively been done
by a Styrofoam mold of a human head.

And now this.

Some more descriptions of the Queen's
ridiculous hats.

A baby Smurf's
uncircumcised penis,

what mold thinks about
when it masturbates,

the exact thing a 19th-century
French prostitute would wear

to Tim Burton's funeral,

a hairball vomited up
by Britain's least-healthy cat,

a dollop of sour cream
attending the Academy Awards,

a penis that's literally died
of embarrassment

and fettuccine Alfredo.

Moving on.
Our main story tonight...

Our main story tonight
concerns public defenders,

the only people who appear in court
more frequently

than former child stars.

Even if you have never come into
contact with a public defender,

you will know them from their cameo
in the Miranda warning speech.

You have the right to remain silent.
You have the right to an attorney.

You have the right to an attorney.

- You have the right to an attorney.
- What is this shit ?

You have the right to an attorney.
If you can't afford an attorney,

we will provide you with the dumbest
fucking lawyer on Earth !

I have the right
to an attorney, too !

And if I can't afford one,

one must be provided
for me by the court !

Yes, apparently,
even Garfield knows

he has the right
to a public defender.

And he's going to need one, too,
because he just murdered a lasagna.

And a person.

The right to a lawyer is a pillar
of American jurisprudence,

but it's a right that
we've only had since 1963,

when the Supreme Court ruled

that "any person who is
too poor to hire a lawyer"

"cannot be assured a fair trial
unless a lawyer is provided for him."

It's an idea so obvious,

you can't believe there was ever
a time that we didn't have it,

like corn-on-the-cob holders that
are shaped like corn on the cobs.

They're essential to
the fabric of American life.

But our public defender system
is massively overburdened.

Depending on the jurisdiction,

anywhere from 60-90% of criminal
defendants need

a publicly-funded attorney,

and the system is creaking
under that weight.

There are about 20 public defenders
handling up to 250 cases.

In New Orleans, for example,

each public defender handles
roughly 350 cases a year.

Public defenders in Fresno County
often work

on a thousand cases a year
when state guidelines say

they shouldn't be doing
more than 150.

A thousand cases in a year.

That's nearly
three cases per day.

Those are Gerard Depardieu
wine consumption numbers.

At breakfast.
And with caseloads that heavy,

public defenders cannot possibly
prepare an effective defense.

A study in New Orleans found

that the city had some part-time
defenders who could only spend

an average of seven minutes
per case,

and that is not long enough
to prepare anything.

If I only had seven minutes
to prepare this show,

I definitely would not be talking about
public defenders right now.

I'd be desperately
trying to fill time

by listing the Muppets
in order of fuckability.

And I'll do it now.
Fozzie first, obviously.

Most attractive thing
is a sense of humor.

Then you've got to go Rowlf.

Then you know what ?
I'm going Swedish Chef,

and I'm finishing up
with Sam the Eagle,

'cause you know he's
into some freaky business.

Freaky. And look, this is just
the beginning of the problem.

Some places don't even have
a public defender's office

and some counties just contract cases
out in bulk to the lowest bidder.

At its worst, this can result
in a system

known as "meet'em and plead'em",

where the vast majority of defendants
plead out and don't go to trial.

90-95% of all criminal cases,
state and federal,

are resolved by plea bargaining.

Now, just think about that.

About 95% of criminal cases
never make it to trial.

If "Law & Order"
reflected reality,

their episodes
would be pretty short.

It'd basically be:
"How does your client plead ?"

"Guilty, Your Honor."
And then this.

And as a viewer, you would justifiably
feel cheated by that.

And look, it is easy
not to care about this

and assume that if someone is being
represented by a public defender,

they're probably guilty,
but many are not.

And some only plead because they
feel they have no alternative.

Look at Erma Faye Stewart.

She was arrested in a drug sweep
but claimed she was innocent.

She faced a 10-year sentence
and was stuck in jail

because she couldn't afford bail.

She said her court-appointed lawyer
urged her to take a plea deal

and she reluctantly agreed.

I asked him: "Listen now, I can plead
for a five-year probation."

"Just let me go home to my kids."

She admitted to a crime
she denies committing

just to spend time with her children.
That is horrifying.

Especially because I would
be willing to commit a crime

just to not have to
spend time with any children.

They are loud cesspools of bacteria
with nothing interesting to say.

You want to grow up
and be a princess ?

I'll tell you what happens
to princesses, Ashley.

Google "Diana plus truth".
Do it. Do it. Google it.

Google it, Ashley.
Open your eyes !

Being a princess
ain't fun, Ashley !

Now, after Erma pled guilty,
the prosecution's case collapsed,

and the other defendants
had their charges dropped.

But Erma could not
take her plea back.

So, she had to spend
five years on probation

during which she was ineligible
for some form of public assistance

and wound up homeless.

That is the problem with a system that
can allot as little as seven minutes

to helping people make decisions
that can be life changing.

Our public defender system
is dangerously under-resourced.

One report found out that 40%
of all county-based public defenders

have no investigators on staff.

That's 40% of lawyers forced to sit
at their desks googling,

"Where to get exonerating evidence ?"
and hitting "I'm feeling lucky".

And the offices those desks are in
could potentially lack

basic standards of workplace
health and safety.

Tough to do your job when you're
knee-deep in roaches.

But that is the case for employees
at Augusta's public defender's office.

It's so bad that the office
had to close early today.

And this infestation
is nothing new.

No, it's been going on
for four years.

That office is getting
to a point where roaches

are outnumbering the lawyers.

If the roaches don't have law degrees
from the University of Roachester

and can't help take on some clients,
that's going to be a problem.

As for New Orleans,
their public defender's office

has actually put up
a crowd-funding page

to help make up
their budget shortfall,

and it's currently only
raised 19% of its goal.

And look,
nobody should be in jail

because a Kickstarter
didn't meet its goal.

Some people should be in jail because
a Kickstarter did meet its goal,

like this one for an actual giant
inflatable Lionel Richie head.

You two gentlemen should be locked up
all night long.

All night, all night,
all night long.

Al night, all night,
hey, jamba, jamba.

But despite all these
enormous challenges,

there are still some amazing lawyers,
like Travis Williams.

He frames every acquittal
and puts it on his wall,

but guess where
he puts his losses.

I'm gonna get the last name
of every case I've lost

tattooed on my back.
Right now it's only five.

Hopefully, I won't
fill my back up.

That's the goal. But since the wins
go on the wall,

I decided the losses go on my back,
'cause I won't forget them.

He tattoos the names of the cases
he's lost on his back.

That is a truly heroic lawyer.

He's like Atticus Finch,

only real and not, as it
turns out, a horrible racist.

Screw you, Finchy !
Go fuck a mockingbird !

The point is, many public defenders
do heroic work

despite facing overwhelming
institutional obstacles,

including this incredible incident
involving a Florida judge.

Stop pissing me off.
Just sit down.

I don't need your help.

I'm the public defender.
I have the right to be here.

I said sit down !

If you want to fight,
let's go out back.

Let's go now.

You want to fuck with me ?
Do you ?

Now, that is clearly a disgrace,

although I will say,
fights like that would make jury duty

a lot more interesting.

We've reached a verdict.

We find the proceedings
to be fucking awesome !

Incidentally, that judge
returned to the courtroom

and called seven cases without
the public defender being present,

and he's still on the bench.

A bad judge can come and go,

as the head of programming
at NBC will tell you,

but access to a lawyer is supposed
to be a constitutional right,

and it is increasingly
under threat.

For instance, in four states,

you can make so little that
you qualify for food stamps

but still not be poor enough
to get state-funded representation.

And in at least 43 states,

you can be billed
for a public defender,

meaning in these states,
we have a system where, conceivably,

if you cannot afford an attorney,
one will be provided for you,

provided that you pay that attorney.
Which is absurd !

You can't tell people something's free
and then charge them for it.

This is the American judicial system,
not Candy Crush.

And for what this can look like
on a human level,

meet Larry Thompson.

In 2010, he was arrested in Florida
for driving with a revoked license,

which was a felony charge

because he'd had multiple
driving violations before.

Larry was sent to jail where
he applied for a public defender,

which in Florida, incredibly, requires
a 50 dollar application fee.

He couldn't afford
to pay that or his bail,

so he was stuck
in jail for 59 days,

at which point he gave up
and pled no contest to get out,

and was released
on time served.

But, in Florida, if you use a public
defender and are found guilty,

even by plea, you then owe
attorney's fees and costs

regardless of your ability to pay.

Larry now owed not just the 50 dollar
public defender application fee,

but also an extra 100 dollar fee
for having used the public defender

and even another fee of 100 dollars
to pay the prosecution's costs,

which is like a bully
taking your lunch money

and then charging you an additional
lunch-money reallocation fee.

On top of those and other fees
for the crime he pled no contest to,

the court then added
partial-payment fees each month

for the next several months,
bringing Larry's tab to 675 dollars.

And that all brings us
to about a month ago,

when Larry was actually arrested
for contempt of court

as a result of not
paying those fees,

an arrest, incidentally,
for which they charged him

a 210 dollars administrative fee.

They may as well have just
slapped on an irony fee,

'cause it turns out
having no money in Florida

can be really
fucking expensive.

And one more thing.
When they arrested Larry,

he was receiving hospice care
for a terminal pulmonary condition

and was so ill, the jail was forced
to send him to the hospital

where he was watched
by two guards

and chained by his ankles
to his hospital bed.

Luckily, he was
eventually released

and his debt was paid by donors,

but he still, understandably,
could not quite believe

what had just happened to him.

I never knew they would actually
arrest a person in my condition

for not being able to pay money,
because I have to pay rent.

So, I can't see them keep
arresting me over and over

and taking me back to jail
and charging me 250 more dollars

that I have to agree to
or else I'm sitting in jail,

when I can't get oxygen
in jail like I need it.

So, they are actually
issuing me a disservice.

None of this makes any sense.
It doesn't even make fiscal sense,

because the state of Florida
did collect the 885 dollars

that Larry owed them,

but they spent thousands of dollars
needlessly imprisoning him,

and, surely, Florida could've
used that money

for something they badly need,
like rehab programs

for meth-addicted
swamp raccoons.

I'm assuming, accurately.

But the point is,

50 years after the Supreme Court
gave everyone

the fundamental right to an attorney,
even if you can't afford one,

the most vulnerable people are
potentially being charged for access

to a hideously broken system.

And we either need to fix that

or at the very least update
the Miranda warning in our cop shows

to reflect reality.

Freeze !

You have the right
to remain silent.

Anything you say can and will be used
against you.

- If you cannot afford an attorney...
- One will be provided for you.

- I get it !
- We're not done !

I'm not done.

I'm not finished.

That attorney may have
300 other cases

that he or she is working on.

- That's not a joke.
- Literally, 300 other cases.

They could have only seven minutes
to prepare your defense.

Do you know how short
seven minutes is ?

Billy Joel's "Scenes
from an Italian Restaurant"

is 37 seconds longer
than that.

"Bottle of red..."

That attorney may be exhausted,
unable to think straight.

And grossly underpaid.

Or working in an office
full of cockroaches.

You know what really blows ?

That attorney may pressure you
to take a guilty plea.

Statistically, there's a 90-plus percent
chance that you will take that plea.

That attorney may get challenged
to a fight by a judge.

- That happened.
- Guess where.

- I don't know.
- Guess !

- Florida ?
- How could it not be Florida ?

One more thing. That attorney that
was provided for you may not be free.

If you lose,
you may have to pay 'em.

- You might have to pay the prosecutor.
- Is that constitutional ?

It's constitutional as fuck !

You piece of shit !

Assuming we can pay for that lawyer.
How's the Kickstarter campaign doing ?

- Not even close.
- Not good at all.

Do you understand your rights ?

- No.
- What ?


Basically... you're fucked.

And now this.

An important message from
our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.

Greetings, brothers
and sisters. Praise be unto you.

It is I,
Mega Reverend John Oliver,

and I am joined by my bewitching wife,
Wanda Jo.

Praise be.

Praise be, Wanda.
Now, just a few weeks ago,

Wanda Jo and I spoke to you
from these very chairs

and we asked you
to sow a seed of faith

and donate to our church.

And like God
and the story of Noah,

you took one look at what we wrought
and you done made it rain.

Indeed. Behold the bounty
that you have sown upon us.

You sent in,
and this is true,

tens of thousands of dollars,

mostly in single dollar bills,
which was a little annoying.

- This ain't a strip club.
- Exactly. Exactly.

We ain't running a change machine
in a laundromat !

However, I am sorry
to report to you that tonight,

we are closing down
the church.

No, no, no.
Not because we have to.

We have still
not broken any laws

by promising you untold riches
in return for sending us money.

It's a miracle !

We are also not closing down

because you kept sending us
actual seeds,

even though we explicitly
told you not to.

We ain't interested
in your seeds !

That's right.
Nor are we closing down

because someone
sent us 12 bobbleheads

of Minnesota Timberwolves'
flameout Jonny Flynn,

which, let's be honest,
is at least 11 too many.

The T-wolves had Ricky Rubio.
Why get another point guard for ?

That's a solid
basketball point, Wanda.

And for the record, it also has
absolutely nothing to do

with the fact that
someone sent a T-shirt

reading "John Oliver Is
a Rat Faced Bastard".

Which, I'll be honest, is starting
to hurt my feelings a bit.

- It ain't a rat face.
- Thank you, Wanda.

It's more like a vole face.
Or a parrot,

or a marginally
handsome weasel.

Thank you, you're very kind.

We're not even shutting down
because someone sent

this four-foot carved
wooden penis

with a sign attached to it,

"Rub this for
the seed you seek !"

No. That's not even why.

The reason we are shutting
this church down

is we received
a different kind of seed.

We received not one,
not two, not three,

but four packages containing
jars and/or vials of semen.

And some looked fake,
but others did not.

We live our lives
by one hard and fast rule.

When someone sends you
jizz through the mail,

it's time to stop doing
whatever you're doing.

So, we are shutting this shit down.
Shut it down, boys.

Shut this shit down.
And I'll tell you why.

Because setting up churches
is all fun and games

until someone gets sperm
in an envelope.

We don't want your
homemade Go-Gurt !

We do not want
your Penis Grigio !

No, no, leave this.
I'm keeping this one.

This is why you cannot
have nice things.

So we are shuttering up
Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption

and we will be giving all the money
to Doctors Without Borders.

And why are we doing this, Wanda ?

Leave it alone. It's mine.

We're doing this 'cause
we ain't interested in your seed !

Exactly. All of this is over !

Do not send us
anything anymore.

If you want to send money to a fake
church, send it to Scientology.

Now, that's our show.
We'll be back in two weeks' time.

Good night !

No, no ! You're not
taking this. No !

It's constitutional as fuck,
you piece of shit !

It's constitutional as fuck,
you piece of shit !

It is constitutional
as fuck !

It's constitutional as fuck !

It's constitutional as fuck,
you piece of shit !

It's constitutional as fuck,
you piece of shit !


Season II.
Episode 27