On Friday, September 6, Dateline’s Lester Holt shared a story on Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He actually stayed in a cell there for a number of days. It is the largest maximum-security prison in the world. It is still a working plantation. It is surrounded by a river and swampland, with a number of ‘unpaid guards’-alligators. I’ve been at this prison many times and I cry when I leave and am angered by the time I make it home. As far as the eye can see, there are black men working in the fields with guards on horses. Not much different than a scene from 12 Years a Slave.
Angola is a complete failure of the human race and it shows how cruel the politicians and government are in the State of Louisiana. Check out The Farm on Netflix to see what the prison does to ‘convicts’ during the Angola Rodeo (modern-day gladiator fights). I hope you can watch it. It will provide perspective to those of us who hope for a better criminal justice system. For those who do criminal defense, it will provide a solid perspective next time the district attorney says, “it’s just 5 years” or something similar. You will have a response. For those who handle civil, please watch it and consider taking on criminal cases, even petty crimes.
The Louisiana public defender system is broken and the bureaucrats have no interest in fixing it. Those who are in charge of public defense for the State divert the lion share of money to private 501(c)3 organizations, who have millions of dollars on hand. The stated purpose for this is to vigorously oppose the death penalty. I wholeheartedly agree with that purpose. However, death by lethal injection is much, much, much more humane than death by starvation of a person’s family when a parent is being held in jail because the public defender is not available to represent him/her over the lack of public defender funding. There are less than 20 actual death penalty cases pending in Louisiana, and thousands of everything else, where people cannot get a damn lawyer. Then, when they do get one, it is either some poor bastard who has been beaten down by the system and overworked and cannot possibly be able to fight or some lawyer who simply could not make it as a lawyer in the real world so they get a government check to represent people and his continued incompetence is rewarded.
Yes, I realized my words are harsh and they will draw rebuke. No matter, my words are true. For years, I handled as many pro bono criminal cases as I could. None of those clients went to jail-not because of my brilliant lawyering, or perfect language, or magic wand, but only because I gave a damn and stood up for them. I cared and I fought like I would if being attacked by a bear. I figured I’d lose, but I will damn sure make a chance to win. But, I had the courage to fight back. I know a lot of you, and you have much more courage, brilliance, and skill than me.
Please watch this 1-hour story from NBC. When done ask, “could I make a difference by taking 1 case?” Please hear me, “Yes! Damn it Yes! You are the only one who can!” If you do not hear my voice, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Take on a pro bono criminal case. If you have never tried a case, take a small one. I will help you in every step of the case. When can talk, FaceTime, email and, if need be, I can even come to you. Those of you who know me, know I will do everything I can to help. I’ve done it, and I will continue to do it.
When you do take on a pro bono case, drop an email to TLC Board Member, Maren Chaloupka, and TLC Executive Director, Laurie Goodman. The College set up the Indigent Defense Challenge for this very purposes. As they say in Wakanda, “show them who you are” and save one damned soul.
Thank you for reading,
Love, Tommy Davenport
Thomas “Tommy” Davenport, Jr. is a trial lawyer in Alexandria, Louisiana. He practices criminal defense, constitutional law, and personal injury. He has obtained justice for his clients since 2001 when he graduated cum laude from Southern University Law Center. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, argued a criminal case in the Louisiana Supreme Court, earned the Chancellor’s Award, and was named an All American Scholar by the United States Achievement Academy. He also graduated with honors from Northeast Louisiana University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice. He is a proud graduate of the Trial Lawyers College.
Tommy earned the coveted “AV Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating” from Martindale-Hubbell®, and received the Martindale-Hubbell “Client Distinction Award” and “Platinum Client Champion.”He was named a “Top Lawyer” in Louisiana by Martindale-Hubbell and the American Lawyers Media, one of the “Top Lawyers in Louisiana,” by The Legal Network, a “Top Ten Criminal Defense Attorney in Louisiana,” by National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys and a “Top 100 Trial Lawyers” by The National Trial Lawyers. Among other awards and accolades, Tommy received the Blackstone Order Award, by the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
Tommy is a writer, who has been published in a number of legal treaties, a national journal, and various state publications. He is currently working on two books, a practice guide and a novel.
Information provided by and written by Tommy Davenport, TLC1 2013 Graduate, and TLC Faculty Member
Edited by Bailey Schmidt, Ron Estefan, and Paula Elliott Estefan