To the members of the Louisiana State Public Defender Board,
I was made aware this morning of the budget crisis faced by Louisiana public defender offices, and I write from Appalachian county to implore you, as you make the impossibly difficult decision of allocating budget cuts, to spare the Fifteenth Judicial District Public Defenders Office in Lafayette (“Lafayette Office”).
Although I live and work in West Virginia, I have had the particular honor of training with members of the Lafayette Office over the past three years through Gideon’s Promise, a public defender training program of unmatched caliber. I got to know three incredibly intelligent, talented, and compassionate attorneys during my class’s initial two-week training session in Birmingham, Alabama, and was inspired by them. We were all in roughly the same age group with roughly the same amount of experience, but the passion and skill of these attorneys stood out. They proved to be creative beyond the measure of most, and possessed the almost unique ability to pour their souls into each argument we were called upon to craft, albeit in the hypothetical.
During our biannual follow-up sessions, hundreds of former initiates gather to learn trial skills and updates on the law, discuss policy concerns, and strengthen the public defender community at large. You can trust that out of the many, the few who represent Lafayette stand out each time, and they inspire the whole group to be better. My colleagues at the Lafayette office find romance in a world as heartbreaking as that of a public defender; I believe this quality to be essential to motivate one’s self to continue to find the requisite strength to do this work, and to do it well. I have always felt that they walk through this world with an overwhelming certainty of what is right and what is not, and I revere their skill to support their values with nuanced application of the law, compassionate representation of their clients, and constant recognition of the larger than life phenomenon of essentially holding the life of another person in one’s hands. Together, these qualities make them fearless, and allow them to give hope to the hopeless.
The reputation of the Louisiana justice system’s typical treatment of the indigent is well known. These few have already started a systematic change, and are more than capable of making this change widespread, given the time and resources. They hail from both Louisiana and the far parts of the country, and have, in fact, inspired others to leave their homes to join in the fight for justice in the South.
To deny these beacons the means to balance the scales of justice would, itself, be an injustice. Please consider this as you meet to make the seemingly impossible decision of adequately allocating what resources you have. I do not envy you this burden, but have every hope that you will use your authority to serve the greater good.
Assistant Public Defender
Charleston, West Virginia