Sarah S. Gannett has been a federal public defender in Baltimore for 20 years, where she represents clients on all criminal justice system levels from state misdemeanors to capital cases in local courts up to the Supreme Court.
Public defense is an important component of her generation’s civil rights movement, Gannett said. “Public defenders insist that our clients be treated fairly and with humanity, no matter their means,” she said.
“Committing to this cause as a career, advances the profession because the lawyer earns knowledge, experience and relationships that cannot be developed overnight.”
Gannett says she has made public defense her career because she cares about people.
“Public defenders have the privilege to stand beside people when they are at their most vulnerable, facing the full force of the government without the resources to respond on their own,” she said. “We work with our clients to identify what brought them to what may be the worst moment of their lives, and to find a path forward despite a system with institutional unfairness.”
Gannett performs community service with Thread Inc., which provides volunteers and access to resources for at-risk children in Baltimore. Gannett is the legal services team lead and helps when children or families need legal assistance.
“The issues the Thread youth face are parallel to the issues many of my clients face,” she said. “Working with Thread allows me to stay connected to these issues in my community, even when my work is in other parts of the country.”
Gannett also advises new public defenders.
“The most important thing we can do is listen to our clients and the people who are important to them,” she said. “Listening is how we learn the facts of the case, but it is also how we learn what matters in the case, and what motivates and moves those involved. Under the pressure of a busy practice, it can be hard to slow down and listen, but it changes outcomes (and saves time and energy) when you do.”
Public defenders insist that our clients be treated fairly and with humanity, no matter their means.”