Dear Board Members,
I am writing in support of the Public Defenders in your Lafayette office who I understand are in grave peril of losing funding and, as a result, many positions within the office. I am respectfully requesting that you step forward and invest in providing the resources needed to prevent dismantling this strong and unique office.
As a core faculty member of Gideon’s Promise, I have had the honor and joy of watching the young lawyers come through training with the program. I have watched them all learn, grow and flourish during their education with us and in practice under the leadership of Paul Marx. This group of lawyers is a very special group. They understand to the core the principal of client-centered representation and each has put aside so much personally to dedicate themselves to improving indigent defense in Louisiana. I see the hard work they are doing day-in and dayout under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.
I am the training director with the agency that provides conflict counsel for the state of Colorado. In my role as training director, I am constantly trying to stay abreast of the challenges facing defenders of the poor. Part of that includes being faculty at Gideon’s Promise, but I am also part of the National Criminal Defense College in Macon, Georgia as well as serving on the faculty for many other public defender agencies across the country. There is nowhere facing the kind of struggles that the defenders in Louisiana face. I honestly believe that your state has more challenges than any other. I have the privilege of mentoring lawyers in both St. Tammany and Orleans Parishes and the questions that arise during our exchanges are often so daunting that even with 20 years of experience in public defense, I am stumped by the issues they face. And yet, despite these incredibly difficult tests of their skill and dedication, the lawyers in Lafayette State of Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel have soldiered on. They have done it gladly, with grace and with a level of practice that has become expected and is now the norm in their office.
Because of Paul’s dedication and the hard work and drive of these incredible lawyers, the culture of indigent defense has changed for the better in ways that cannot be calculated or valued. To strip them of even more resources will without doubt inalterably change the course of defense in your state. The perception across this country is that Louisiana is one of the worst places to practice criminal defense. I know that in Lafayette for the past few years, that has not been true. I have no question, however, that it will become the sad truth should this office be dismantled in the way that is contemplated by the funding cuts that are on the table. Please don’t perpetuate this problem by doing away with the jobs of these young lawyers who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to serve the poor people of your state.
As a member of an agency that provides services for poor clients, I clearly understand the challenges of balancing and sharing limited resources. I don’t make this request lightly. But I also recognize how unique the Lafayette office is. I am well aware that an investment in the right people makes every bit of difference in the long-run. To cut the funding in the way that is contemplated is short-sighted. Please plan for the future by investing in these lawyers as all of us at Gideon’s Promise have invested Louisiana by providing training and mentorship to the Public Defenders in your state.
Shawna Geiger Training Director