I became a Public Defender because of a promise. A promise manifested in the Sixth Amendment to the United States and Colorado Constitutions. A promise embodied in the 1963 Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright. A promise that no matter what, you are entitled to effective assistance of counsel, due process, and zealous legal representation.
I have always taken our nation’s promises very seriously. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, my parents and grandparents fought for this country to honor the promises made in its 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Living in the South, they tussled in the trenches of Jim Crow to desegregate schools, to empower indigent black communities, and to ensure access to the American dream for all citizens.
Today, I can only hope that I am doing my part to carry on my family’s legacy as a public defender representing indigent people. The number of prisoners in state and federal prisons has increased by 700 percent in the last 30 years. Three-quarters of state defendants are poor. And while black men are only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise over 50 percent of the prison population. Without resolute counsel, the poor will continue to be our nation’s most oppressed population. The need for devoted public defenders is greater than ever.
From the second I watched my first opening statement, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer. Nothing in my professional career has matched the exhilaration of being in court and in front of a jury. The adversarial process, when allowed to unfold, is truly the greatest safeguard against injustice that our system offers. To be on the front lines of such an important fight is very fulfilling.
Often, the biggest obstacle I face as a public defender is gaining the trust of my clients. My clients did not select me to be their lawyer. Instead, I was assigned to them by the court—by the very judge who may ultimately be sending them to prison should they be found guilty. Often my clients are detained—locked away from their friends and family—and facing lengthy sentences. Convincing my clients that I will advocate for them as zealously as someone they would pay can be difficult. That is why I believe it is of paramount importance to communicate, at the outset, that I will stand by their sides; that I “have their backs.”
In the same way I communicate to a client that I have his back, my alma mater Colorado Law communicates to me, through the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), that it has my back. It is Colorado Law’s commitment to me that helps me better represent my clients. It lets me know that the work I do is valuable and that my law school recognizes the inherent importance of the career I have chosen.
Public Defender work is often very demanding. The deck is stacked against people accused of crimes. The opposing party has better resources. Your client is often stuck in jail. The process of uncovering and unraveling the truth is exacting on many levels. Colorado Law, through LRAP, has demonstrated to me that it not only appreciates the work I do, but that it is willing to show that appreciation through financial support.
My LRAP award has made a positive impact on my career. It also reminds me that Colorado Law is dedicated to making a career as a public defender a real option for me and other graduates. I am thankful every day that I am able to do this work. Moreover, I am thankful that my law school stands in my corner and shows its support. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. often proclaimed that “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice.” The LRAP award is a reminder to me that while that arc is long, I do not walk it alone.
By A. Tyrone Glover ('09), Deputy State Public Defender