Dear State Board:
Six months ago I moved from New York to Lafayette with the intention of becoming a part of a movement to fix a broken justice system. Before I moved I had an abstract idea of what practicing law in a state which has the highest incarceration rate would look like. There was no plausible way that any books, seminars or advice could have prepared me for the reality which awaited me.
In the sixth months I have spent in Lafayette, I have met clients who all have different stories but fit the same theme- abhorrent and grave injustice.
CL was the first client I was appointed to represent. CL is a domestic violence victim, who was arrested for pointing a rifle at her husband. When the arresting officers arrived, CL informed them that a warrant was out for her husband’s arrest. A warrant which was issued just one month prior to the night of the incident, because CL’s husband broke her jaw. The police officers told CL they “couldn’t find the warrant” and instead of arresting her husband, arrested CL for defending herself after enduring five years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Her bond was set at $140,000.
When I first met RT, he greeted me with a big smile and a “HOWDY PARTNER” as I sat in the interview room in the jail. When I began to ask RT questions he would respond to me by grabbing my arm and trying to write some sort of number letter combination on the palm of my hand. Within minutes after meeting RT it became apparent that RT didn’t have the mental competency to understand where he was, let alone the mental competency required to distribute oxycodone, as this is what the police officers charged RT with. His bond was set at $200,000.
CL and RT are just two examples of the injustice I have witnessed in the 15th Judicial District. I have met clients with 7th grade educations, clients who can’t gather $50.00 to make 12% of their bond, clients who are sleeping on the floor because the jails are so overcrowded, clients who are fraught with mental illness, clients who are completely complacent with the violence they have endured from the police, juveniles who have been thrown in the detention center without any efforts of rehabilitation, the list goes on. Every one of these clients has shared an immense amount of gratitude for my office. My office is the only hope these people have at receiving any type of advocacy. Without my office, these people remain nameless, hopeless, accused perpetrators, who will sit in jail without any end in sight.
My office is comprised of 65 relentless attorneys who work to make sure that these clients aren’t withheld the representation they deserve simply because they are indigent. The majority of these attorneys have moved from all over America to devote their efforts to this broken justice system. These attorneys have left their family, friends and everything they know back in their home states in order to provide representation to these people. Any attempt to find the words to describe the group of people in my office that have made these kinds of strides, would be a failed one. However, in my most sincere attempt these attorneys are nothing short of altruistic, indefatigable, justice seekers.
The budget decrease which effects the 15th Judicial District, is an egregious injustice to the people who will no longer be afforded representation, and to the people who have devoted their lives to afford that representation. This decrease means that thousands of people will lose their liberty, and too many will lose their livelihood. It is irrefutable that the few attorneys who will be left to handle caseloads exceeding 700 cases was not the intended outcome of the representation required by the 6th amendment. I pray that the State Board, recognize what this budget decrease means to the thousands of people who depend on this system, and allocate the funds necessary to the 15th Judicial District.
Assistant Public Defender
15th Judicial District Public Defenders Office
600 Jefferson Street, Suite 902
Lafayette, LA 70501