New York City is home to the busiest criminal court in America, with over 300,000 arrests every year that need to be processed by the system. More than 85% of defendants arrested receive a free, court-assigned defense attorney. "How can you defend those people?" is a question that attorneys for the poor constantly hear.

In INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: PUBLIC DEFENDERS the viewer meets 5 idealistic lawyers who are intrinsically drawn to this difficult work--they even refer to themselves as the "stepchildren" of the legal system. See the obstacles they must overcome; limited funding, overwhelming caseloads, recalcitrant clients, and the pervasive racism of the criminal justice system. This program makes a strong case that the credibility of the criminal courts depends on its ability to defend unsympathetic clients.

This gritty, cinéma vérité documentary goes inside the daily lives of these dedicated attorneys by following several ongoing misdemeanor and felony cases. The cameras capture the entire legal process, from arraignment and plea-bargaining to trial and verdict. Footage of jail cell consultations brings home the relationship between lawyer and client, while events in the office demonstrate the political aspect of the job. This entertaining program takes a long look at the role of the public defender, and examines how the odds are stacked against this crucial component of the justice system.