Thomas McCants ('14) Appointed Gideon’s Promise Fellow

Student preparing for career in public service earns one-year, post-graduate fellowship in public defender office in the Southeast

gideonsThomas McCants ('14) has been chosen as a Gideon’s Promise Fellowship recipient. He will work in a public defender office in Georgia as part of the Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Project (LSPP), an initiative in which Boston University School of Law engaged last year to expand its resources for students seeking public-servant opportunities.

Through the program, McCants will work at the Augusta Public Defender’s Law Office in Augusta, Georgia, in a one-year, post-graduate fellowship role.

“Thomas McCants represents a long tradition of BU Law alumni who practice in the public service field,” says BU School of Law Dean Maureen A. O’Rourke. “As a law school, we are proud to partner with Gideon’s Promise in this important effort to open more public service career opportunities to our students and to address a critical legal need in this country.”

“Thomas illustrates the caliber of law school graduates who are passionate about serving where the need is the greatest to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to its highest ideals,” says Jonathan Rapping, founder and president of Gideon’s Promise. “With each fellowship marks the beginning of an important and meaningful legal career working to ensure that equal justice is a reality in this country. The work these young lawyers do represents the highest calling of our profession. We are grateful to Boston University for working with Gideon’s Promise and the Department of Justice to provide Thomas this opportunity, and we are proud of his dedication to serving our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Nearly 80 percent of the 12 million people who move annually through America’s criminal justice system cannot afford a lawyer. As a result, many innocent people plead guilty simply because they cannot afford to take their case to trial. The public defender system is so overwhelmed by crushing volume, that adequate and meaningful defense often fails them as well.

The LSPP is a partnership between the nonprofit Gideon’s Promise, which is dedicated to reforming the public defense system in the Southeast; the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA); and participating law schools and public defender offices in the Southeast. The goal of the program is to recruit talented, third-year law students who are interested in public service and placing them in positions at underserved public defender offices. Students who participate in the LSPP receive a fellowship from their law schools, as well as a commitment of a permanent job within one year from the public defenders’ offices where they are placed.

Students also receive the Gideon’s Promise signature Core 101 training—a three-year program that offers the tools public defenders need to provide meaningful representation to clients under difficult circumstances and to learn strategies to resist pressures to adapt to the status quo of processing clients through the system quickly.

“This model,” Rapping says, “is a critical piece of any effort to reform criminal justice in this country, ensuring ‘justice for all’ is not an empty promise, but a commitment that rings true for every single American.”

Last year, Rapping and Gideon’s Promise were featured in the HBO documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” which follows three young public defenders, trained by Rapping and Gideon’s Promise, in their sometimes breaking quest for equal justice in indigent defense. The organization has now trained more than 250 public defenders, who each see an average caseload of 300 per year.

Nine law schools—American University, Boston University, George Washington University, New York University, University of California Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of California Los Angeles and Vanderbilt— and nine public defense offices in the South have joined the Gideon’s Promise LSPP. The goal is to expand the program to at least 20 law schools and 20 public defender’s offices, and to place 20 law students in their public service careers by 2016.

Reported May 20, 2014

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