Andre Allen Vitale, Special Assistant Public Defender
Monroe County Public Defender’s Office, Training Director
10 N. Fitzhugh St
Rochester, NY 14614
15 February 2016
Re: Demand Justice in Louisiana, Support for Public Defenders
To the Public Defender Board:
I have proudly served as an Assistant Public Defender for 17 years, during which I have turned down countless opportunities to go private and greatly increase my salary. I have not done so not because of a lack of opportunity or that I could not handle the work. In fact, I could have increased my salary by more than three times to a point that I would be financially comfortable instead of living paycheck to paycheck. I have made these sacrifices because there is something more important than personal wealth; …. Justice, … True Justice. Justice not in the way it has become corrupted by the police and prosecution. Rather, justice in the fight for the lives and liberty of indigent human beings who, without the sacrifice and dedication of individuals committed to them instead of personal comfort, would be left to fight without a real voice against the enormous power and strength of the government. A government trained to prey on the poor and the seemingly powerless.
For years, public defense was poorly serving the people whose lives were placed in their care. Today, we are in a new day of public defense. The indigent defense movement being led by Gideon’s Promise and the National Association of Public Defense (NAPD) is raising the bar in ways never seen before. Where before, indigent clients were left to feel as if they did not have anyone to fight for them, that they had no voice in the courts. Today and with increasingly regularity, they feel confident knowing they will have a true warrior fighting by their side. Public defenders across this nation and in Louisiana are giving the indigent a voice. They are giving them hope. This movement must continue. We cannot afford to scale back on justice. We must fight to continue this momentum at its current level. It may not be cheap, but it is what’s right.
Louisiana stands at the forefront of the indigent defense reform movement. The progress your State has seen in its indigent defense representation since the days of Katrina have been incredible. You have created incredibly strong offices in New Orleans and smaller parishes like Lafayette, that serve as the standard for indigent defense representation for the entire country. To cut these offices and lose these warriors for indigent defense will set your state and the state of indigent defense back more than 15 years. You must not let this happen. Some things in this world are more important than money and politics. The amazing work being the public defense lawyers in Louisiana is one of them. Fight for them with the same energy and spirit as they have fought for their clients’ lives and liberty. This battle is one that cannot be lost. Too much is at stake. Brett Willis said that when you see an injustice in the world you have a moral duty to fight against it. You have an injustice before you now. Fight it with the strength of warriors, just like your indigent defense lawyers have for the past ten plus years.
Andre Allen Vitale