Nashville Defenders, Assistant Public Defender
404 James Robertson Parkway Ste 2022
Nashville, TN 37219
To the Louisiana State Public Defender Board,
I have been a public defender in Nashville, Tennessee for nearly 7 years. My office, like many in this nation, is underfunded, under-resourced, and under-appreciated. However, my city government has funded my office’s continuing existence since 1961. There have, and surely will continue to be, lean times. We have faced furloughs and cutbacks. We have lost staff. But we have never faced the complete shutdown that threatens the public defenders in Lafayette.
The news of your budget shortfall caused me to consider what would happen to my clients, were my community in the same situation. I think of J, who has waited three years in pretrial detention for his jury trial, scheduled for next month. I think of A, who is homeless and suffers from dementia so severe that he can’t remember the name of his caretaker. I think of R, who is in jail only until I can find him stable housing and J, who is currently suicidal, and B, who is not guilty by reason of insanity and shouldn’t be in jail right now. I think of B, awaiting sentencing, and W, who spent 17 years in prison before his conviction was reversed on appeal last fall. Without me, they remain locked away in a cage, indefinitely.
Being in a cage, whether it’s a pretrial detention cage or a state prison cage, silences any voice that poverty and circumstances haven’t already stripped from them. They are still human beings. They are still part of my community. They are still, I believe, God’s children. They still deserve to be heard, just like any other person in my community. My voice is the only voice they have. To silence me by taking away my job or shutting down my office would silence a whole segment of my community. There will be no one left to speak for J or A or R or J or B or B or W.
I personally know many of your public defenders in Lafayette and in other parts of Louisiana. I have had the honor of training, and learning with and from, the Louisiana lawyers that have gone through the Gideon’s Promise program. My colleagues in Louisiana are skilled, talented, and compassionate people. They care deeply about the individuals they represent, and I’ve heard them tell countless stories of triumph, heartache, and courage. They, like my colleagues in Nashville, have chosen to spend their lives speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Silencing the public defenders in Lafayette by firing them or furloughing them will silence the indigent accused in your community. The Lafayette community will be judging who has worth, who has the right to freedom, to liberty, to even exist, based solely on the amount of money in his or her pocket. This is wrong. As the board apparently tasked with overseeing indigent representation in Louisiana, letting this happen is wrong.
It is shocking to me that, at a time when the general public is demanding criminal justice reform and protections for indigent accused, at a time when the nation is glued to stories like “Serial” and “Making a Murderer”, at a time when the President of the United States himself has devoted time and energy to dismantling a culture of mass incarceration, that any community would see firing and furloughing its public defenders as an acceptable way to deal with a budget crisis.
Stand with your Public Defenders in Lafayette, Louisiana. Ensure that this community continues to receive the quality indigent representation that I know my colleagues have been providing.