In June of 2012 I packed my entire life into a U-Haul van and drove seven hundred and nineteen miles to begin my career as a public defender in Lafayette, Louisiana. I didn’t pack up my life because I had family in Louisiana; I knew nobody. I didn’t pack up my life because of a lack of other options; I could have begun my career in an office in a state I was familiar with. I didn’t pack up my life because of the money; I knew I was becoming a public defender and didn’t expect riches. I packed up my life because I believed in Mr. Paul Marx’s vision for the standard of indigent defense in South Louisiana. As you members of the board are well aware, Louisiana has been branded as having the highest rate of incarceration per capita in the world. Despite these overwhelming odds, Mr. Marx believed in client-centered advocacy and ensuring that regardless of income, that everyone deserved a passionate, driven, and hard-working attorney. In 1963 the United States of America made a promise to its citizens that they would provide a lawyer to anyone accused of a crime. This board has an opportunity to keep that promise by funding this office.
During my time at the Lafayette office I strived to provide the best for my clients. I represented hundreds of people through felony drug cases, cases where mothers and fathers faced years in prison for holding a single prescription pill. I represented men who had spent their entire lives in prison for crimes that they had committed as children. I represented men and women in drug court as they tried to rebuild their lives that had been shattered by substance abuse. I spent my days, my nights, and my weekends in my office or at the jail working to keep the promise that this country made to its citizens. The promise that is recited to everyone ever arrested and charged with a crime; that if they cannot afford an attorney one will be provided to them. Mr. Marx has cultivated an office of attorneys dedicated to upholding that promise. Attorneys that, like me, left their homes because they believed that justice was not a privilege reserved for the wealthy, but a fundamental right that should be afforded even the poorest of our citizenry.
It was with a heavy heart that I left my position as a public defender in Lafayette. I left behind an office that in the three years that I was there had transformed from a “meet and plead” system, to an office where clients in the jail requested specific public defenders because they had heard stories of their hard work and dedication. The 15th Judicial Public Defender’s Office has made tremendous steps towards reforming the broken justice system in Louisiana in these past few years. Despite budget cuts and overwhelming caseloads, the attorneys in the Lafayette office have risen to the challenge. I am proud to call them my colleagues, and saddened that I cannot be with them during this tumultuous time. I implore this board to adequately fund this office and keep the promise that was made to the citizens of Acadiana.
Assistant Public Defender
Maryland Office of the Public Defender
District 5, Prince George’s County
Upper Marlboro, Maryland