Jessica Yeary - The Passion
My journey as a public defender began in the Spring of 2009 during my last semester of law school at Stetson University College of Law. I worked as a certified legal intern in the Sixth Judicial Circuit at the Public Defender’s Office in St. Petersburg, Florida under the outstanding leadership of Bob Dillinger. Working alongside the incredibly talented and dedicated attorneys in that office was the most educational and rewarding experience of law school.
In my first week as an intern, I met a twelve-year-old child accused of trespassing on school grounds, handcuffed and shackled in the juvenile detention center. I witnessed mentally ill adults being housed in intolerable conditions in the county jail. I watched in awe as my supervising attorney battled with passion and grace for each of her clients. Witnessing firsthand the courageous attorneys of the Public Defender’s office fiercely battle injustice quickly convinced me that I wanted to join their ranks.
My opportunity came immediately after law school when I accepted a position volunteering in Tallahassee with retired Public Defender Nancy Daniels. Working for the first woman elected Public Defender in the State of Florida was especially motivating. While volunteering, I left the office every day thinking about my clients, brainstorming how I could improve not only their legal situation but also their individual lives. I woke up early every day – eager and excited to fight for them the next day.
After being admitted to the Bar in September of 2009, I finally joined the fight as a fulltime Assistant Public Defender. In those years, I faced the challenges of public defenders across the country – heavy caseloads, challenging trials, and rampant injustice. I was happy and proud to do it though and found strength in support from other attorneys in the office who mentored and guided me through the difficult days.