Dear Members of the Board,
I write to you regarding the future of the Lafayette Parish Public Defender Office, an office facing such severe funding cuts, that to employ them would result in nearly one-half of the staff attorneys being relieved of their jobs. I’m asking you to do what is in your power to stop that from happening in Lafayette, because to permit it to happen would be disastrous, not just for the citizens of Lafayette but also to the state of Louisiana.
I have been a public defender since I became a lawyer in 2002 and can personally attest to the importance of having an agency committed to the defense of the poor that is both adequately funded and well supported by the community in which it sits. As faculty member for Gideon’s Promise, an organization dedicated to training, sustaining and mentoring public defenders in offices all across the nation, I have seen how the public defender office in Lafayette has transformed the delivery of indigent services in your jurisdiction, in light years, for the better. Paul Marx has, through almost herculean effort, built an office full of bright, dedicated, young lawyers who believe that equal justice is a basic American right that should be available to all of us, from the rich to the poorest among us. They put that belief into action every single day.
The public defender office in Lafayette has become a truly “model” office in every sense of the term. Many of the lawyers who joined the office seven years ago are still there, handling more complex cases, mentoring newer lawyers and setting an example for how this work, while challenging, can be sustainable when you have a supportive office. The leadership in that office has encouraged an environment of teamwork and cooperation that results in their lawyers remaining on the job and also encouraging new lawyers to come to Lafayette just to be part of what they have built. This is a rare and admirable feat and one that your community must do its best to preserve.
I urge this Board, members of which I believe want the best for every citizen of Lafayette, including those who find themselves in our legal system in need of a competent and adequately resourced defense attorney, to save the public defender office in Lafayette. They desperately need you to both understand their plight and to creatively problem solve so that the entire parish can be stronger and better for it.
Violeta R. Chapin
Associate Clinical Professor of Law
University of Colorado Law School
Robert & Laura Hill Clinical Suite
Boulder, CO 80309