Dear Board Members:
I moved to Lafayette from San Francisco to work as a public defender, and could not be more proud of the decision I made and the work that our office has been able to over the three and a half years I have been here. I feel this way because of the colleagues of which I work alongside, and the clients we represent.
The lawyers in our office come from across Louisiana and across the country. What they share is a deep commitment to their work, to protecting the Constitution, and the passion to care about the people that have been locked away and forgotten about. I think often of the attorney in our office who visited a client in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on Christmas day, and that client who sent a card thanking her for what she had done. I think about the day in court that lasted from 8:30 am to 11:15 pm, and the attorney who kept fighting deep into the night for his clients.
I think of the lawyers that spent months trying, and succeeding, in getting the Louisiana Supreme Court to strike down a law that had illegally imprisoned dozens of men and women. I think of the guard at the jail who said, “Thank you for coming here to visit. You guys are really making a difference.” I think of our contract attorneys, who we have lost during this financial crisis, and who have spent decades of their lives working for our clients, taking the most difficult cases and never backing down from a fight. I think of the children who have made the mistakes of childhood and winded their way into the criminal justice system, some not even teenagers, and the lawyers who stand up every day to make sure they get the respect and the justice they deserve.
I think of the tireless efforts of our social worker and our investigator, who we also have lost during this crisis, who sit in jail cells and living rooms for hours and hours and give our clients and their families something they have likely never had: a voice and a place to use it. I think of the hugs, the jokes, and the tears we have all shared with our clients and with each other. I think of the clients, some of them spending the rest of their lives in prison, who still told us: “Thank you.”
We have tried as hard as we could to give our clients the zealous and aggressive representation they deserve. Our current financial situation makes that so much more difficult. We will have no real ability to investigate cases. Those lawyers that remain, already overworked, will have to take on many more cases and additional responsibilities. It will become extraordinarily difficult for us to function at all, and impossible for us to provide the kind of representation we believe in and that the men, women, and children of the 15th Judicial District deserve.
Change and progress are difficult, but clearly, not impossible. I hope that the messages you have received have highlighted not only that change and progress have occurred in the 15th Judicial District, but that there is much more to do.
Assistant Public Defender