Dear Members of the Board:
It is with a broken heart that I write this letter in the wake of learning about the tragedy occurring in Lafayette, Louisiana. I write this letter from the neighboring state of Mississippi where I proudly practice as a Public Defender. I am very fortunate to have trained with some of the lawyers in the Lafayette office and I am proud to say that they are some of the most passionate and zealous lawyers I have ever met. They are true fighters and the campaign to save this office is only a small piece of their fight. They work tirelessly against a system that works tirelessly against the people they servethe poor. However, they do it with grace and most of all with great success.
I had the opportunity to intern with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia while I was in law school in 2008. Being from Mississippi, I had never seen so many people fighting for the rights of poor people. I was absolutely amazed and knew that I wanted to do the same work. After graduation, I later moved back home and eventually joined the Public Defender’s Office where I have the privilege to work and serve in the community where I grew up. It is truly a blessing to serve others and more of a blessing to serve my clients who I didn’t choose and who didn’t choose me. I think of it as a divine relationship, and I am tasked with their lives- whether they be facing 7 years in prison or 70 years in prison.
I have the opportunity to work with our externs in the Jackson office and during orientation, I tell them “welcome to the emergency room”. Not many people want to imagine themselves as a criminal defendant. Not many people want to imagine not having a choice in their representation. However, we can all think of a time we sat in an emergency room and later treated by a doctor that we did not choose. That doctor was tasked with our health and lives. Just like that doctor, a public defender is tasked with the life of his or her client in the “emergency room”. I submit to you that we cannot disband that safe place. We cannot disband the very principle that our country was founded upon – freedom. The Public Defender’s Office represents so much just by its availability and the right to simply walk into the Public Defender’s Office is one that carries great value. We as citizens wake up with the constitutional right to a fair trial and that office reminds every person walking past it, that if the day should come for their emergency, the Public Defender is there to champion for their life.
I urge you to please reconsider closing the doors of the Lafayette office. I further urge you to go to the Legislature and fight for a statewide system so that the citizens would not be forced to rely on small counties to fund our indigent defense system. Let us not close the doors of the emergency room. Neither you nor I know when or if we will be on the table.
Thank you for your time.
Candace Gregory Mayberry
Assistant Public Defender
Office of the Hinds County Public Defender