Dear Members of the Board:
My name is Allison Jackson, and I am an assistant public defender in
Fort Bend County, Texas. I am writing to encourage you to fulfill the
government’s constitutional mandate and adequately fund indigent
defense in Lafayette.
For the past two years, I worked in a tiny island nation in
Micronesia, first as an assistant public defender, and later as chief.
Palau is a country of only 20,000 people, funded largely by a small
tourism industry and aid from other countries. Palau’s legal system is
similar to the US Federal system, and its constitution is very similar
to our own. Because of the paucity of native attorneys, Palau grants
reciprocity to American attorneys in good standing and largely
recruits lawyers from the States.
The Palauan government faces intense budget restrictions compounded by
the widespread and complex problems of poverty, poor education, and
rampant corruption. Yet despite all of these hurdles, that tiny nation
takes its responsibility to provide adequate indigent defense services
very seriously. At this point, Palau employs FOUR full-time attorneys
in addition to administrative staff and an investigator. In a country
where the minimum wage has not yet reached four dollars an hour, the
government offers salaries significantly higher than the average
incoming salary of a Lafayette Public Defender. Additionally, with
this level of staffing, the attorneys are able to stay well below the
American Bar Association’s recommended caseload limitations and
provide quality representation to their clients.
I bring this to your attention because Palau is a one of the smallest
countries in the world, and a developing nation at that. It is a
country that does not have addresses or stop lights or McDonald’s. And
I understand that you are facing budget shortfalls. I understand that
money spent here has to come from somewhere else. But I urge you not
to allow yourselves to be embarrassed by comparisons to other places
that are also struggling with their budgets and allocations, some more
than even you are.
Funding for the public defender’s office is not discretionary.
Assistant Public Defender
Fort Bend County, Texas