At DPD, a new unit helps people reclaim their lives 

Pictured: Detric Johnson, with his daughter Adryanna.

Crossposted from For the Defense 

For years, Detric Johnson felt as though there was nothing he could do to erase the mistakes of his past. He faced more than $10,000 in legal financial obligations (LFOs), a crippling burden. He had felonies on his record, most of them 25 years old. Without a driver’s license, he couldn’t land a job. 

“My life was in a shambles,” he said. 

All that changed over the course of a few months, when an old DUI and another driving charge caught up with him and he was assigned a public defender at the Department of Public Defense. Sarah Wenzel, his attorney, was able to get the charges reduced without him having to serve time in jail. When he told her about his LFOs, she referred him to Lou Manuta, an attorney in DPD’s post-conviction unit who met with him and quickly began working through his debt, LFOs from a couple different jurisdictions.

Earlier this month, Detric learned that the last of his LFOs were extinguished, thanks to Lou’s help. He was able to get a driver’s license. He just landed a job as a meat cutter at Safeway. Lou is now working to get his old felonies removed from his record.

Detric marvels over the way his life has changed. “This is the most free I’ve been since I was 18 or 19 years old,” he said, holding his 3-year-old daughter Adryanna on his lap. “I’m like a new man.”

DPD started its post-conviction unit earlier this year, a two-year pilot project staffed by the equivalent of one FTE attorney and one FTE paralegal. In an effort to get the most out of limited resources, DPD combined the county funding for the post-conviction unit with funding from the City of Seattle for a unit dedicated to addressing the collateral consequences of criminal involvement. The result is that three attorneys – Charlie Klein, Josh Treybig, and Lou, all with considerable background in civil legal aid and supported by Joey Feng, a paralegal – are able to spend some portion of their workday on post-conviction work.

Read more at For the Defense