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Lenora Easter

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Democratic Candidate, Public Defender

Public Service

Assistant Public Defender 

Occupation

Regional Program Director, Partners for Justice

Education

  • Barry University School of Law, J.D., 2007

  • University of Central Florida, B.S., Business Administration, 2000

When Lenora Easter, 46, talks about her campaign to head the Public Defender’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court where she once worked, she talks about transformation.

She wants assistant public defenders — those who represent youthful offenders, indigent people who can’t afford legal representation in criminal cases and others with mental health and addiction issues — to participate in the community in a more visible manner so people’s first encounters with them aren’t in the courtroom. She also wants them to speak more at conferences about the office’s activities and accomplishments. Additionally, she wants to actively lobby Tallahassee on legislation that will affect the Orange and Osceola counties’ jurisdiction.


But, most of all, Easter said she wants to bring a holistic/collaborative approach to the Public Defender’s Office, one that, beyond defending them, explores what drives people into the criminal justice system in the first place. By bringing together an interdisciplinary team of attorneys, social workers and advocates to address specific issues, she said she wants to help keep defendants out of the system or ensure they have a future when their debt to society is paid.


Next Level

In her first run at elective office, Easter squares off against Melissa Vickers, who worked as a former chief assistant public defender in the office, in the Aug. 20 election. Early voting will take place Aug. 5 through Aug. 18. Check our list for locations. The deadline to request a mail-in ballotLINK is Aug. 8. It must be received by the Supervisor of Elections office by 7 p.m. Aug. 20 to be counted. 


The winner of the election will succeed Public Defender Robert Wesley, who is retiring after 24 years. This means whoever wins, a woman will lead the office for the first time in its history.

Wesley has endorsed Easter, calling her an “innovative leader.” She has also been recognized as a Super Lawyer, a distinguished leader by New York Law Journal and as a Top 100 Lawyer by the National Black Bar Association.


Easter, who worked in the Public Defender’s Office for Orange and Osceola Counties for six years right out of law school, is originally from Bronx, New York, and the daughter of two New York City police officers. For nearly eight years, she worked for the public defender nonprofit Bronx Defenders, which pioneered the concept of holistic defense.


Easter told VoxPopuli in an interview that if elected to head the Public Defender’s Office she would take it to the “next level because I know we can do it. That's why I'm running.”


Root Causes

Transforming public defenders’ offices is what Easter does now as regional program director for the national nonprofit Partners for Justice. The organization provides wraparound services and support to clients and attorneys in public defender’s offices across the country with a mission to ensure that “race and wealth no longer determine legal outcomes.” Easter manages the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.


“There are different aspects of a person’s life that get affected every time an individual enters the system and gets arrested,” Easter said, pointing to housing that may be lost or professional licenses that may get suspended until a case is resolved.


“A lot of times, people get arrested and they didn’t do anything wrong, but they have these collateral consequences that have been triggered, affecting them. It’s not just their criminal case.” Easter said the holistic/collaborative approach is about “foster[ing] better relationships between all the stakeholders” to help someone avoid incarceration, who “might need help and may need stabilization.”


When she talks about holistic/collaborative defense, she said it also means “working collaboratively with the police, working collaboratively with the state attorney because if that's what's going to be in the best interest of my client, that's what we need to do.”


She said she’s “the only candidate that has done this work. I am doing it. I know how it works. And I can effectuate it from day one.” She added that she already has plans to build a holistic defense unit from the Public Defender’s Office’s existing social work unit, if elected. “This is what I do when I go into offices. I take them from where they're at and I help build out that type of program.


“Recidivism can only be stopped when we focus on the root causes of the problem. And so having an attorney, having a social worker or an advocate work with that person is important in order for us to really see some sort of change when we're talking about individuals cycling through the criminal legal system.”

— Norine Dworkin
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