Public Defender Candidate Profile: Jessica Yeary

Public Defender Candidate Profile: Jessica Yeary

Jessica Yeary is running for Public Defender of the Second Judicial Circuit against incumbent Andy Thomas.

Yeary graduated from the Stetson University College of Law in 2009. After graduating, she volunteered for retired Public Defender Nancy Daniels. She has served numerous roles in the Public Defender’s Office, including public defender assistant and division chief. Main ideas of Yeary’s campaign include properly training new lawyers and fostering relationships with community leaders and activists.

Questions:

What motivated you to run for Public Defender?

“As an assistant public defender for almost nine years, I had a front row view of the systematic inequality and injustice within our criminal justice system. With failure after failure of the administration to stand up for our clients and be their advocate in the community and in the courtroom, I knew the only way to make change and to strengthen the quality of representation in our office was to run for the elected position.”

What experience would you bring to the position?

“I have dedicated my career to advocating for and protecting the Constitutional rights of the criminally accused in our circuit. My first nine years were spent at the Public Defender’s Office where I was promoted to positions of leadership throughout my tenure. I am Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar. Board-certified lawyers’ experience and competency have been rigorously evaluated and we have met the Florida Bar’s highest standards for special knowledge, skills, and proficiency in our field. I am proudly serving my second term as the President of the Tallahassee Chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. I am a mock trial coach at Florida State University College of Law.”
“I have walked juveniles through a criminal justice system that they were not prepared for and counseled habitual offenders as to their rights, the law, and potential outcomes. I have carried the heavy burden that is a public defender’s caseload, juggled nearly a dozen hearings before lunch, and still made time to assist and educate young attorneys in their fight to preserve justice. I have battled day in and day out with government prosecutors and pushed for them to see my clients as human beings in need of assistance and not just case files in need of closing. I have litigated and argued in the courtroom through extensive motion practice and complex jury trials, and my record shows that I have done so effectively.”
“Over my years as an attorney I have devoted extensive time to the training, development, and mentorship of young lawyers. It started when I was promoted to division chief of the misdemeanor division and has continued as President of FACDL – Tallahassee. I organize continuing legal education courses attended by both private attorneys and assistant public defenders. I also educate current attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office, often times answering their questions long after the office has closed for the day, as they prepare for the next day’s trial. My mentorship extends beyond licensed attorneys as I also regularly mentor law students, helping them navigate their way through law school and into their careers.”
“I believe my experience training and mentoring young lawyers has prepared me to implement an office-wide training program. Formal training and mentorship are essential to ensuring that attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office provided exceptional representation. It will also cultivate a collaborative environment in which talented lawyers will remain committed to the office, thereby reducing turnover and ensuring that the clients receive quality representation.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the circuit?

“We know that one in two residents in the Big Bend area struggle to meet basic needs. Our 32304 zip code is one of the poorest in our country. For these families, most are working two to three jobs to make ends meet. If themselves or someone in their family is accused of a crime it can be devastating, and the quality of their representation should not depend on the amount of money they have. This is why the role of the Public Defender’s Office is so crucial—we must protect the most vulnerable in our community from being even further disenfranchised by the criminal justice system. One arrest can spiral a family even deeper into poverty and despair and that challenge is one we should be working to solve.”
“Additionally, jail and prison sentences are not reducing recidivism. Violent crime continues to rise and the revolving door of our citizens in and out of county jail has put an incredible strain on our budgets and resources.”

What is your plan to address these challenges?

“We have to change the culture of the office from pleaing cases out, with no regard for the collateral consequences, to zealously defending clients with evidentiary challenges and persuasive litigation. By properly training and supporting the lawyers in the office, with the tools and skills they need to effectively represent clients, we can make meaningful change in our system one client and one case at a time.”
“As the lead attorney I will continue to defend clients in every courtroom of this circuit. I will set the example of our commitment to being the very best lawyers and will encourage and support our lawyers to earn board certification in criminal appellate and trial law. This will ensure that our clients are represented by lawyers that have the skills and expertise they need to fight for them.”
“As an ally in your neighborhood I will be present in the community. I have spent the majority of this campaign meeting with folks in every city and county of our circuit including community leaders, activists, nonprofit organizations. They do not know who the Public Defender is. We have to have our boots on the ground, active, and engaged with the people and families we represent. We will host know your rights seminars where we can educate our young people about their Constitutional protections. We will be there when decisions are being made as your voice. We will work with the incredible organizations that are making meaningful impact in their own way by lending our support and our skills to their missions.”
“But most importantly, as an advocate for justice we will be liberty’s champion and lead the charge for criminal justice reform in our circuit. The Public Defender’s Office represents the majority of people arrested and accused in our circuit and we have an absolute ability to make significant change in our criminal justice system. By better challenging search and seizure issues we can ensure that law enforcement is following the rules. By better advocacy in plea negotiations for rehabilitation and mitigation we can ensure that our clients receive the treatment they need to reduce their chances of reoffending. By better training lawyers on trial procedure and evidentiary objections we can ensure that our cases go to trial and that we are successful in proving their innocence. By becoming a strong presence in the legal community we will ensure that prosecutors and judges take our position and our defenses seriously. We can work to change the overall criminal justice system by better advocating for each and every client we represent.”

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