I’m an Assistant Public Defender with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office. Currently, I represent people charged with misdemeanors and property related felonies who can’t afford to hire an attorney. What I love most about being a public defender is working with my clients. The vast majority of poor people who are charged with crimes have been through the criminal punishment system before, and have also been failed and exploited by many other systems and institutions. It’s my job to build trust with them despite all that, to listen to their stories and their concerns, and advocate for them. I feel like it’s an honor to be in a position to try and lift and amplify my clients’ voices in court, when their voices so often go unheard or ignored.
What is your most recent pro bono experience?
I’ve been involved in representing the Public Defender’s Office to set up and run a reoccurring, free expunction clinic in Mecklenburg County. In collaboration with the NC Pro Bono Center, the Mecklenburg County Clerk’s Office, Self-Serve Center, and DA’s Office, we’ve been able to start helping people get answers to their questions about their criminal records and file petitions for expunctions.
How has engaging in pro bono legal service enriched your career, or enriched you personally or professionally?
Even though being a public defender is already a job that involves fighting for poor and marginalized people, I think doing pro bono work that helps those same people and communities in different ways is really important. It allows us to show those communities that we are fighting for them outside of court, too.
Of what moment(s) from your pro bono work are you the most proud?
The expunction clinic! There is such a massive need for free expunction assistance, and we’re trying to help meet that need. So many people, even those who have never even been convicted of anything, face barriers to housing and employment (among other things) because of charges they’ve had alleged against them. Those barriers do nothing but push people and their families further into poverty and desperation.
What advice would you give someone who has not yet provided any pro bono work?
Even though it can be really hard to dedicate time outside of work to doing more lawyering, it’s so worth it, and I guarantee it won’t feel like work. Being able to help someone who might otherwise not get the assistance they need is something that, in my experience, makes you feel more energized and motivated to keep doing this whole lawyer thing.