Dear Board Members,
I write to you to urge you to preserve the public defender attorneys in Lafayette, Louisiana. I am a former public defender, a current Gideon’s Promise faculty and mentor for public defenders across the South, and a professor who runs a juvenile defender clinic at the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (“CJLP”) at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, CA.
CJLP is a legal services organization dedicated to the direct representation of children and the protection of the rights of children both locally and nationally. Through my work at CJLP, I have provided specialized juvenile indigent defense training across the United States, have created a juvenile trial skills training program, and have provided testimony to U.S. Congress on issues related to juvenile justice such as the use of solitary confinement and the school-toprison pipeline. In collaboration with Gideon’s Promise, I provide specialized training in youthful offender representation to public defenders in Lafayette, in New Orleans, in Baton Rouge, and throughout the South.
Just in the last two weeks, I consulted with Jane Hogan, a Lafayette defender on a case where she is mounting a substantial challenge to her client’s automatic transfer to adult court at just 15 and 2 days old (had he been 49 hours younger, he would not have been eligible for automatic transfer). Jane Hogan worked for weeks, sought my counsel and advice to strengthen her argument, and reworked her motion while most of America watched the Superbowl on a Sunday. Jane visits this vulnerable, learning disabled, and scared young client often and she is his lawyer in this battle. This 15 year old is only one of Jane’s clients and each one is important and needs Jane to be able to finish the battle she has undertaken on their behalf.
Lafayette public defenders like Jane are INVALUABLE to the clients they serve and families they treat with dignity and fairness. The community and shared values found in the Lafayette defenders fuel their energy and create a team whose individuals support one another and serve as resources so that they each can be at their best. In sharp contrast, the panel attorneys privately contracting with the court are not a team and have a troubling incentive structure that threatens the justice that well-trained, client-centered public defenders seek to create.
Just a few years ago the CJLP published a study that provided empirical evidence for something that juvenile advocates in Los Angeles have long observed – that the current flat rate payment structure for bar panel attorneys (approximately $325 per case whether the case is a homicide or a petty theft) financially penalizes adequate representation. Under the current system, the more work a panel attorney does for his/her child client, the less they are paid. The incentive structures inherent in this system has resulted in exceedingly unjust and unfair outcomes for youth in our county. I write to you now to emphasize from our experience in Los Angeles that public defenders are critical to the protection of liberty, justice, and fairness. A system of privately paid lawyers is a danger to us all because public defenders protect the rights of everyone in our society when they defend one client at a time. When indigent defense is not adequately supported, we all lose. As a result of this study, the Board of Supervisors in Los Angeles has taken the first steps towards reforming the structure and delivery of indigent defense. (For information on the reforms contemplated in Los Angeles based on the inadequacy of private panel attorney representation see, Abby Sewell, “Justice System Overhaul Pondered,” Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2014. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-juvenile-defense-20140212-story.html)
I write to urge the board to do whatever it can to keep Jane and every one of the public defenders in Lafayette.
Very Truly Yours,
Clinical Professor, Co-Director, Juvenile Justice Clinic
Center for Juvenile Law and Policy
Loyola Law School 919 Albany Street Los Angeles, CA 90015