Proud to Be a Public Defender

The year was 1978. The place was Northside Junior High School. That is where it all began.

I was in eighth grade and took a class entitled, “Youth In Law.” It was all about the juvenile justice system. On the first day of class, our teacher announced that as part of the course, we would have a mock trial towards the end of the quarter (if “junior high” didn’t date me, then the fact that we were on a quarter system certainly does!). I couldn’t wait. When the time came, I was fortunate enough to get to play the defense attorney. Of course, I was appointed, not retained—and thus began my career as a public defender. My mock client probably didn’t think she was so lucky to have me as her lawyer, since the mock jury found her mock guilty. However, in my defense, I was not as effective as I could have been, because I was not yet a member of GACDL!

I am now a proud member of GACDL and have been for more than 27 years. I am honored and humbled to be the new President of this most amazing and valuable organization. I cannot imagine my legal life without the support, guidance, and wisdom of the wonderful, learned, and always helpful members of this great association. I cannot imagine my personal life without the precious friendships that were formed thanks to GACDL.

Last August, because of my involvement with GACDL, I found myself in the Republic of Georgia (ROG) with six of my colleagues, recruited to teach trial skills to lawyers who were about to start conducting jury trials for the first time in their country’s history. Over the course of eighteen-months, we will have the privilege of teaching lawyers in the “other Georgia” the same trial skills that we teach to GACDL members in the Bill Daniel Trial Advocacy Program—the same skills that we find so essential and persuasive in defending our clients back home.

We kicked off the program in Tbilisi, the capital of ROG, where, over several days, we met with prosecutors, judges, state bar members, private defense lawyers, and staff from the Public Defender’s Office. As a proud, lifelong public defender (at least since the 8 th grade), I was encouraged by the fact that a country with such a “new” Constitution already had established an agency dedicated to defending poor people charged with crimes. The right to be represented by a lawyer, even if you could not afford one, is now considered a basic right under the Republic of Georgia’s new Constitution; but that’s only because of lawyers like us fighting for that right in the United States. Our efforts here have become the model for countries halfway around the world. It’s really something we all should be proud of as a group.

I repeat: I am a proud, lifelong public defender. I know all too well the misconceptions, mis-perceptions, and misgivings of those who are uninformed and unaware of the hard work, hard times, and heartache that are part of a public defender’s daily existence. That is why, during my term as President, I hope to convince every public defender in Georgia to join GACDL and become a gratified member of this most amazing group of criminal defense lawyers. GACDL is an inclusive organization, serving private defense lawyers and public defenders alike, throughout this state. I think that it is important for public defenders to realize that, although they often suffer harsh and unfair criticism from clients, families of clients, and sometimes the media, there is no doubt that GACDL supports and appreciates them—no question that GACDL understands and respects the noble call they serve.

To our current and future members: I thank you for the honor and privilege of serving as President of this tremendous organization, which has been and always will be a source of support, inspiration, and help to me. I pledge to uphold GACDL’s mission statement in the year 2017 and beyond, and hope that GACDL will come to mean as much to each of you as it does to me.


Angie Coggins

Perry, GA

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