Gideon’s Promise is a non-profit in Atlanta that trains and pushes for public defenders throughout the South. I can find nothing wrong with that goal as I believe every defendant is entitled to competent defense counsel regardless of whether he or she can pay for it. That was the basis of the famed Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright.
They have recently initiated a program to place recent law school graduates in public defender’s offices in the South. The program is called the Law School Partnership Project. The law school funds a recent graduate of their school for one year in a public defender’s office and the office, in turn, commits to hire that person for a permanent position. The new lawyer will also get three years of training and mentorship from Gideon’s Promise under their Core 101 program. The program has received a $1 million grant from the DOJ to help it get off the ground.
So far, this is all well and good. Where I have problems with it is that the law schools involved so far are not in the South.
The new Law School Partnership Project so far has three law schools lined up: The University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; New York University School of Law; and American University Washington College of Law.
“The vital work of improving the quality of public defense is completely consistent with the law school’s mission of pursuing access to justice for all,” said American law dean Claudio Grossman. “This partnership will create a concrete pathway between law students and public defense work upon graduation and will be a significant service to communities in need.”
This is just what the South needs: lawyers from New York and California coming here to show the provincials how it is done.
Why not recruit graduates of such well ranked law schools as Duke, UVa, Vanderbilt, or Texas? They are all ranked ahead of UCLA in the US News & World Report law school rankings. And when it comes to American University’s Washington College of Law, I count an additional 16 Southern law schools that are more highly ranked than it.
Frankly, if I were on trial in Jackson or Birmingham or Memphis, I’m not sure I’d want some young lawyer parachuted in from LA or New York City wearing a blue seersucker suit (because that is what they think everyone practicing law in the South wears) defending me before a local jury.
I hope Gideon’s Promise makes a serious effort to bring Southern law schools into the program. Then, and only then, would I give it my full support.