Safa Ansari-Bayegan Reflects on Summer PAAIA Ansari Fellowship

Headshot of Safa Ansari-Bayegan

     Ansari Fellow Safa Ansari-Bayegan

I decided to pursue my law degree at Berkeley to become a public defender and to help elevate the voices of those who are often most ostracized in our society: indigent defendants pulled into and under the criminal legal system. There are structural, systemic and cultural barriers across public defender systems that are failing the poor, so my approach to legal advocacy is to place an emphasis on the humanity of all the individuals involved.

Working in the trenches of trial capital defense in West Texas and in post-conviction representation in rural Alabama affirmed that while ultimate outcomes are critical, there are enormous personal and social benefits for the client if the process is conducted in a purposeful and compassionate manner. I saw the difference that skilled, strategic advocacy can make on behalf of clients in desperate need of quality representation, and I knew I wanted to become a public defender.

This summer’s work in the Trial Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) further solidified my goal of becoming a public defender. As a summer law clerk with PDS, I was able to visit with clients in jail, write motions and briefs on a variety of complex legal issues, including issues related to the reconsideration of detention and challenging search warrants. I also had the opportunity to prepare sentencing letters for judges, in which I was able to successfully advocate for the application of the Youth Rehabilitation Act.

I spent much of the summer in awe of the level of skill and mastery of PDS’s attorneys, both inside and outside of the courtroom. I took advantage of the trial practice-group offered to law clerks, sharpening my oral advocacy skills through the delivery of mock opening and closing statements, and practice of direct and cross-examination techniques.

Without question, I am concerned about joining a profession where unstable and inadequate funding will likely leave me with insufficient time and resources to meaningfully represent my clients in the way they deserve. Yet, my experiences, including this summer’s work at PDS, have shown me that if one fights tirelessly for the liberty of each client and for the integrity of our court system, there is recourse for people whose constitutional rights would otherwise be trampled.

Indigent clients are better off because of passionate attorneys who are devoted to defending our poorest and most marginalized people. However, this is not without personal sacrifice. The weight of law school debt, family obligations, and the temptation of private-sector paychecks are all hard to set aside to pursue a public interest career. The financial support of the Ansari Fellowship made this leap much less daunting. With the support of the Ansari Fellowship, I was able to subsidize my summer living expenses in Washington, DC and benefit from an invaluable summer volunteer position with PDS. I am eager to become a public defender who will zealously take on our criminal legal system for each and every client and am deeply grateful for the Ansari Fellowship’s support and belief in my advocacy along the way.

October 3rd, 2019

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