Public Defense employee brings legal knowledge to youth

Twyla Carter

Misdemeanor Practice Director Twyla Carter shares her knowledge of the legal system with youth and families from underserved communities.

Serving as a voice for members of marginalized communities is all in a day’s work for Misdemeanor Practice Director Twyla Carter. Since she began serving as a lawyer in 2007, she has acted as an advocate for her clients, and after recently moving to her current role will be overseeing misdemeanor practice across the four divisions ensuring quality public defense in courts of limited jurisdiction, which includes Seattle Municipal Court and King County District Courts in Redmond, Seattle and Kent.

“I view my new role as being at thirty thousand feet and ensuring the court systems and practices serve clients in an equitable way,” she said.

“I’m helping to support public defenders and staff in their delivery of high quality representation to clients.”

Her drive to work on behalf of others for justice and protection of their legal rights comes from both her professional and personal experiences. A self-proclaimed “military brat,” she said she took an unorthodox path to law school that gave her needed perspective to realize her passions.

“I was young when I graduated from high school and needed time to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “I traveled a lot and that helped me zero in on what I like, which was being a voice for disenfranchised communities.”

“As a woman of color I wanted to be a voice for those people society tends to dismiss. I love making personal connections with people and absolutely have a deep passion to fight for them.”

Twyla brought this desire for justice to her public defense career nine years ago and explains it was truly rewarding and yet challenging at the same time.

“While it is important to have a reputation as a zealous advocate with judges and prosecutors, what mattered most to me was my reputation in the ‘tank’,” she said, referencing the jail. “To help to build that reputation, I did my best to visit in-custody clients once a week.”

“It was equally as important to me as it was to zealously advocating for them in court.”

This determination and understanding of the harsh realities clients faced helped Twyla excel in her position.

“I didn’t shy away from serious, honest conversations because they help you develop a real rapport with clients,” she said. “They appreciated me being open enough with them to have those real ‘come to Jesus’ talks.”

She has also used these skills to communicate with youth and families through her volunteer projects. Recently she brought two students from Seattle Urban Academy to shadow her at work. The young men had lunch with Twyla and then observed a court session.

Twyla and another attorneys from DPD recently met with 60 youth and their parents to discuss how to handle police encounters and other criminal justice matters.

Twyla and another attorneys from DPD recently met with 60 youth and their parents to discuss how to handle police encounters and other criminal justice matters.

“I spend the first hour getting to know them and who they are,” she said. “I ask about their families, community and then eventually what they want to be when they grow up.”

“The last hour is observing court proceedings where I explain what they’re seeing and what people are doing.”

While it’s a great opportunity for these young people to consider a career in law, Twyla also uses it as a way to give meaningful advice on issues she has come across again and again in her field.

“I just remind them to have fun but to realize the decisions they make now can have long-term effects,” she said. “I let them know to choose their friends carefully, beware the pitfalls of social media and think about how their actions will affect their futures and their families.”

Bringing students to shadow her at work and speaking at events have been two of Twyla’s most fruitful volunteer experiences. She and another attorney recently spoke with sixty students and members of the Somali community at the Tukwila Community Center to explain legal actions and individual rights.

“I want them to feel empowered to say no and to own their abilities as a member of the community,” she said. “I want them to know their rights and what they are entitled to legally.”

Twyla continues to emphasize to others the importance of self-worth and community awareness.

“Everyone has value, and I am a firm believer that no one ever wants to be defined by the worst decision of their life or a serious mistake,” she said.

To learn more about Twyla’s work with youth and the community, or to speak with her about DPD and its ESJ efforts, contact her at twyla.carter@kingcounty.gov.