“Do you think we should still go to Valparaiso?” Several members of NAPD asked that question on the same day Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That question was asked as organizations from around the country, including Apple and the NCAA, responded sharply to the action of the Indiana legislature and Governor.
I thought about that a good deal. Should we continue to hold our Executive Leadership Institute at Valparaiso Law School in June? I recalled that my friend Andrea Lyon, the new Dean of Valparaiso Law School, had asked NAPD to come to Valpo and to have a home there. I knew that no one was a more stand-up public defender during her career, no one had more respect from the defender and capital community, and few were more gifted in their teaching or writing, than Andrea. I knew that Valparaiso Law School had one of the highest levels of minority students in the country. I also knew that Andrea wanted to make Valparaiso Law School a place that grew public defenders. Moving NAPD’s Executive Leadership Institute, scheduled for late June, just did not seem the right thing to do.
Valparaiso itself made the decision easier. Andrea sent me a nondiscrimination position from the University, and it included the commitment to not discriminate for any reason, including sexual orientation. And then she sent me an announced statement by President Heckler, reflecting about the law that the Indiana legislature had passed. These made it clear that NAPD could feel comfortable about remaining at Valpo. Less than a week after the law passed, I sent a letter to President Heckler praising the positions of nondiscrimination taken by his university.
NAPD was responsive in this instance. As I further reflected on our short history of a little more than a year, this responsiveness is one of the things that I like the most about NAPD. We are not bogged down in process. We do not establish task forces and committees to discuss over months and years difficult issues. We do not wait until the dust settles. Instead, we dive into issues and try to come up with a statement or an action that fits the situation and is effective.
We were responsive when local officials were considering whether to change the delivery system in Fresno. Our Strike Force was responsive when local officials objected to motions being filed by a defender chief in a capital case. Our Workload Committee was responsive to the need for something other than the status quo in workload litigation, by creating a call for timekeeping. Our Amicus Committee was responsive to the leaders in Mississippi when a defender was kicked out of the courtroom and two other defenders were held in contempt. Our Steering Committee was responsive when they created a task force after Ferguson went up in flames and fines and fees were identified as one of the causes of the rage. Our Systems Builders have been responsive to the needs of local organizations for assisting with recruiting new chiefs and raising the quality of delivery systems. Our Ethics Counselors were responsive to the call from social workers for a definitive statement about the duty to report. Our Education Committee has been responsive to the needs of line defenders for in-time training on a variety of topics without traveling to a far-off site or spending a great deal of money. And our MyGideon Committee has been responsive to the need of our community for a public defender library where answers can be sought and past training can be accessed.
NAPD has been responsive in its infancy. And I believe we must continue to be so.