Dear Board Members,
I have my hopes pinned to Lafayette, Louisiana. My hopes for justice, transformation and progress live there. In a few short months, I will live there with them because I am moving from Chicago to Lafayette to start my career as a public defender in the fall. Thanks to the Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership, I’m lucky enough to have my salary paid by Northwestern Law so I can work in Lafayette for a year at no cost. (This partnership is one of the many things the office has done to extend its resources and provide more for its clients despite chronic underfunding.)
I am coming to Lafayette because, even in just a few conversations, I could see the public defenders there are uniquely client-centered, zealous advocates. I admire the spirit with which they do their work and the energy they put into stretching their already-strapped resources to provide the best representation possible to their clients. I’m choosing to move to a place I’ve never been because I am inspired by their progress and eager to join their mission.
The attorneys already working as public defenders in Lafayette started like me—with huge hopes that, if they work as hard as they can, sacrifice as much as they can, show compassion their fellow man, and devote their lives to intervening in a broken criminal justice system, they’d be able to help people. And help people, they have; through sacrifice and devotion, the office has made great and well-documented strides and its head, G. Paul Marx, has gained much-deserved recognition. Stories from Lafayette inspire law students like me to come join a growing movement that aims to finally provide adequate representation to the people who depend on public defender services throughout the South. The 15th Judicial District is a model office in that movement.
The budget decrease would deal a blow to this powerful movement, it would tell the people coming behind me, “No, you can’t help—things are too broken. Give up and go somewhere else.” It already takes so much to get a law student to decide to pursue a career that promises half the salary of their peers’ at large law firms. Now is not the time to take the wind out of the sails of a movement that has grown powerful enough to draw new attorneys from all over the country to give their best work in the face of unrelenting difficulty and injustice.
To break this movement would do more than strand the thousands of individuals already in need of representation today—it would rob this gem of an office of its momentum and cause damage that will stretch far into the future, depriving thousands more in the state’s most vulnerable populations of their liberty and their constitutional right to adequate counsel.
It is my sincere hope that the State Board will see the value in the movement this office has built. It is a movement that will radiate far beyond the borders of the 15th Judicial District and far beyond this present struggle. It is a movement worth saving. I am willing to tie my hopes to its mission and to plead for your support.
Law student and future public defender
Northwestern University School of Law