To Whom It May Concern:
My name is Jason M. Payne and I have been working as an Assistant Public Defender in Harrison County, Mississippi for three years. In that time period I have been involved in felony cases from shoplifting to capital murder and have helped hundreds of accused individuals of all races, sexes, and ages, because helping people is what Public Defenders do. I am writing you out of concern, for the thousands of individuals who will be harmed by a failure to fully fund the Public Defender Program for the 15th Judicial District of Louisiana and thus not have enough attorneys to help those in need.
I know the budget difficulties faced by Public Defender offices. My office is one of only four full time offices in the State of Mississippi. Being as that is, we are used to working on a shoe-string budget with fewer resources and funds than our counterparts in the District Attorney’s office. However, we have never faced a situation like the one facing the Public Defender Program for the 15th Judicial District because our county leaders recognize the importance of a fully staffed office. They know, from past experience, that without a properly staffed and properly managed Public Defender office the county justice system grinds to a halt, the jail gets backlogged, and ultimately lawsuits are filed for violating the civil rights of the incarcerated accused.
I have come to know members of Public Defender Program for the 15th Judicial District over the last three years through my involvement with Gideon’s Promise. They are an amazing group of attorneys that carry large case loads and on a daily basis face a difficult and often unfriendly justice system. They do their jobs so well, in part because of the leadership of District Defender Paul Marx, and in part because of the kind of people they are. I have witnessed how they have come to rely on and support each other in such a way that they can lift each other up when they have fallen or become down-hearted and thus continue to fight the fight necessary to protect the rights of the accused in their district. This is a rare thing and should be treasured. Your failure to fully fund this program will destroy this magic that has been created and set back the 15th Judicial District more than you can even imagine.
It is for these reasons that I ask you to please provide the necessary funding so that this amazing office can continue doing what is necessary to do what is right.
Jason M. Payne
Assistant Public Defender
Harrison County Public Defender’s Office