June 11, 2021
Public Service Program and Mass Incarceration Law Society Teams Up with ACLU-Louisiana’s Justice Lab Project
Southwestern law students participated in the ACLU's Justice Lab Project, an intensive litigation effort to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices and combat police violence against people of color in Louisiana, by completing a research assignment designed to provide insight into public defender’s offices across the United States. Southwestern’s efforts are led by Brittany Butler (3L) and Gonzalo Villanueva (SCALE II.)This research project was born out of a recent case in which a public defender argued he was ineffective counsel. The case, Crawford v. Hinds County Board of Supervisor from the United States District Court for Southern District of Mississippi, No. 3:17-cv-118-TSL-RHW, is up for Supreme Court review.
As part of the research project, the Southwestern team compiled data from ten different public defender offices across the United States. This data includes training programs, the number of full time attorneys, the number of cases filed, and their budget among other things. The research project is meant to provide insight into those public defender offices providing effective assistance of counsel to indigent clients and whether any of the same methods can be implemented in other offices.
The initial research objectives were limited to compiling supportive data to submit as part of an amicus brief in the above-mentioned court case. However, after Southwestern’s research revealed how difficult it was to access the data required, the research objectives and scope was expanded to include other functions.
The ACLU-Louisiana is considering using the memo that Southwestern students wrote as part of the amicus brief and as part of a formal request to the Department of Justice (DOJ) to commission a census of all public defender’s offices. The last census conducted by the DOJ was in 2007, with revisions submitted in 2012. The recommendations in the research project will be utilized with the goal of improving public defender offices’ access to resources in order to ensure effective assistance of counsel to indigent clients and communities.
Through the help of private law firms and other law schools’ clinics, ACLU-Louisiana provides legal representation and advocacy services directly to impacted community members. The Justice Lab project is dynamic and encompasses various initiatives within it. Justice Lab is not an experiment, but a serious pursuit of what justice means, who it is for, and who has been historically excluded from obtaining it.