Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hi everyone,

The students and I have been having incredibly full days since arriving and beginning work Monday morning. Each day, bright and early (I mean early!), we travel from New Orleans to Baton RougeBaton Rouge Public Defender. IN a typical day, we awake at 5:30 to 6 a.m., get dressed (some of us take a quick jog), have breakfast at our lovely guest house and leave by 7 a.m. (7:30 at the latest). Baton Rouge is a 90 minute drive and sometimes longer when there is traffic. On Monday we had a terrific morning meeting with the Chief Defender and his staff. They really need help here and provided an excellent overview of the court system and procedures. We are focusing on the pretrial population and the many people charged with non-violent, minor crimes who cannot afford bail and who have not seen a lawyer since the day of their arrest. Louisiana prosecutors can detain an arrestee for 45 days for a misdemeanor, and 60 days for a felony, before deciding WHETHER OR NOT to file a formal charge. The people the students are interviewing would not usually see a lawyer until AFTER the District Attorney decides to prosecute. Consequently, the defendants were very happy to see us and to speak to a law student.
where we have been asisting the

The students have been doing a fabulous job. I mean FABULOUS. I sometimes cannot believe that these eight students have just completed their first semester of law school. They are so good and so committed to helping and serving their clients and to assisting the beleaguered public defender staff. One public defender whom we are working has a caseload of - - - -850 cases!!!! Anne Deady has been doing great work as a supervisor and has helped the students adjust to assuming the role of a quasi Rule 16 student attorney. After we left the Pd's office, we traveled the half hour to the Parish Prison where students entered and interviewed two clients each. Anne and I supervised. Students quickly developed a very fine attorney client relationship and obtained the necessary information for investigation purposes and for preparing a persuasive courtroom argument. The prison is a huge complex and contains many buildings. We traveled to three different jails where students conducted interviews. Interviewing stops at 4 p.m. when we are told we must leave. We return to New Orleans by 6:30, grab a quick bite to eat and return by 7 to hear one of Louisiana's truly courageous lawyers, Phyllis Mann, speak to us about the work she and her colleagues did post-Katrina when they traveled around the state and interviewed more than 6,000 of the prisoners transferred from New Orleans. We must invite Phyllis to the law school!

After she speaks, students work past midnight, making phone calls to families, writing memo's to the public defenders and preparing courtroom arguments. I know we cannot continue this pace every day but what a great first day!

Tuesday morning, we meet for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and travel to Baton Rouge. We do work at the PD's office and then drive to the prison. It is amazing to see how much the students have grown in one day. They enter the prison feeling much more comfortable. They speak to clients with far more confidence and knowledge. They are fully engaged in getting the information and preparing for a bail review hearing. I feel so fortunate to be part of this experience. We are working together and speaking to people who otherwise would not see a lawyer for a month or two. Students are showing enormous concern and care for assuming the role of a professional. It is all good!

Today, Wednesday, we return to the PD where students are getting ready for courtroom argument. Tomorrow, we will spend the day at the Prison and interview about 30 more detainees. Friday, students and the PD will present arguments in court. I promise I will write more as soon as I find time. There has not been too much downtime yet. Students in the other groups seem to be having a very positive learning experience, too. We are getting together tonight to listen to one of Katrina's prisoners who was there when the waters rose in the Orleans Parish jail.

We have a very special group of students who have volunteered. More to follow. Take care, Doug.

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