This Friday, March 18th marks the 53rd anniversary of Gideon v. Wainright, and the first nationwide celebration of Public Defense Day. NAPD is leading a social media campaign to highlight the work we all do every day. Individual defender offices are seeking local media attention.

Since I last wrote asking you “What should a public defender day look like?” a  committee of over twenty NAPD members met virtually over a webinar to dream and strategize. From offices in eight states, we emailed each other and came up with a plan. We want you to join us in inaugurating a yearly celebration of the team effort involved in standing up for indigent defendants. (We agreed pretty quickly that Public Defense Day better reflected the team effort.)

Why are we doing this?

I see our audience as three concentric circles. In the center of the circle is us, the people who actually work for defender offices. The next larger circle includes our clients and their families. Finally the largest circle, encompasses us, our clients, and everyone else.

This is for ourselves. Sometimes even warriors need encouragement, inspiration, and … tacos. Shelby Co. Public Defender’s Office in Memphis is providing its staff with a taco bar.  Tales of the historic accomplishments of other defenders can inspire those of us who will celebrate Friday taco-less. For example, it was a public defender who took the chance to argue that deportation was just as serious a consequence of a criminal conviction as prison, and therefore attorneys are obligated to advise their clients of immigration consequences to their criminal cases.  Missouri public defenders litigated Missouri v. Seibert, holding that Miranda warnings given mid-interrogation after confession were too late. Seeing injustices day after day inspires us to make the arguments that change the law. On #PublicDefenseDay, let’s share with each other our victories.

This is for our clients. No one should feel like they’re getting second rate representation when they can’t afford a retained attorney. It’s especially frustrating when clients feel that way even as they’re represented by brilliant and tenacious lawyers who’ve rejected opportunities to earn more money in the private sector. We want to boost our clients’ confidence in our work. We still have a ways to go until we get the funding we need to get our caseloads under control. Nonetheless public defender offices often offer what private lawyers cannot: a team of lawyers, social workers, paralegals and investigators who work together on behalf of their clients. After Mr. Padilla won his appeal to the US Supreme Court, staff of Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy kept fighting for him and worked out an agreement allowing him to stay in the United States. On #PublicDefenseDay, let’s show our clients they have a team of professionals who have their backs– all the way to the Supreme Court and back if that’s what it takes. 

This is for everyone. As Jonathan Rapping of Gideon’s Promise reminds us, “Public Defenders are on the front lines of today’s greatest civil right struggles.” Often those struggles take the form of routine injustices: racial profiling by police, jailing people for failure to pay fines, and losing jobs because of an open case. While spectacular injustices like those in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” dominate the discussion about criminal justice, we want to remind people about what we see every day. On #PublicDefenseDay let’s let people know that we’re not just witnesses to those injustices, but we are fighting them.

What are we doing?

Individual Public Defense agencies are using #PublicDefenseDay as a hook to reach out to the media.  In addition to organizing the aforementioned taco bar, the Chief Public Defender of Shelby Co. PD will publish a guest column in the local paper. NAPD members, including ones in Shelby County have already submitted essays to the Marshall Project. It’s not too late to write a letter to the editor, call in to a radio show or send your own story of life in the courts to the Marshall Project!

Our main campaign is via social media. Staff at the Legal Aid Society in New York will be posting selfies with placards saying, “I defend __________” and filling in the blanks themselves.

Those of you who follow NAPD (@NAPD2013) or me (@RJLunn) on Twitter know that we’ve cooked up some awesome graphics to share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. We encourage everyone to tell social media about their work using the hashtags #PublicDefenseDay and #TippingTheScales.  We’ll be using the graphic that’s featured with this blog post. We also encourage you to change your Facebook profile picture to the #TippingTheScales logo this week to spark interest in our message. Find NAPD on Facebook or follow us on Twitter us to see more pictures and graphics as we countdown the days to our first annual #PublicDefenseDay.  Of March 18th, post stories about the times you tipped the scales and justice was done for your client.

This is just the beginning of interjecting ourselves into the national conversation on criminal justice. We invite you use #PublicDefenseDay as an excuse to boast a little and show your colleagues, the clients and the world why our work matters.