Alumna replaces alumnus as 8th Circuit public defender
BY KARA CARNLEY-MURRHEE (1L)
Just as one door closes, another one opens — for two UF law alumni working in the Public Defender’s Office of the 8th Judicial Circuit.
Stacy A. Scott (JD 95) took office Dec. 1 for a two-year term as the new public defender for the 8th Judicial Circuit. She succeeds C. Richard Parker (JD 72), who resigned in November to go to work overseas after winning seven elections to the Gainesville-based office.
“When Rick told me he was retiring and that he was going to recommend I be appointed to replace him, I was really honored, humbled and thrilled all at the same time,” Scott said. Although Scott’s appointment was a gubernatorial decision, Parker said he knew he was going to recommend Scott for the position.
“I was the past and she was the future, and I was hoping that the governor would appoint someone like her, but all I could do was make the recommendation,” Parker said. “My primary reason for recommending Stacy is that she has not only demonstrated the ability as an outstanding trial lawyer but also an excellent ability in managing people. And particularly in the Public Defender’s Office, having someone that is committed to providing high quality service to poor people is just very important.”
Scott’s professional experience since UF Law fit the bill: almost 12 years in the Public Defender’s Office, nearly two years as an assistant state attorney and a stint in private practice. She leads an office of 35 attorneys, manages a $5 million budget and oversees nearly 22,000 cases this year.
One of the biggest challenges Scott faces in her new role as public defender is the threat of significant budget cuts. The Public Defender’s Office handles almost three times as many cases per year than is recommended by the American Bar Association, Scott said.
“If we followed their guidelines, we should have almost 90 lawyers, but we have only 35,” she said. “The right to counsel is a fundamental right and is what really gives meaning to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. If there isn’t a PD who can be there to represent the client, then justice can’t be served.”
Parker reinforced that view.
“The problem is that we have already cut an organization that in my judgment couldn’t be cut and continue to provide the level of service that I prefer,” Parker said. “When you take an organization that is already operating at a minimal funding level and tell the boss that he or she has to cut it more — it’s just going to be very difficult.”
The 8th Judicial Circuit is composed of Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.
Parker started in the Public Defender’s Office in Gainesville in 1973. In 1976, he became the chief assistant, the office’s No. 2 official, and remained in that position for eight years before becoming the public defender in 1984.
Parker is now employed by a private firm working with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan as justice adviser to the Afghanistan Ministry of Justice.
“As advisers, our role is to provide the benefi t of our knowledge and experience to Afghanistan government officials. The context might be answering questions, providing comments, offering suggestions or making recommendations,” Parker explained. “Generally, the advice is at the policy level but the range may include practice and procedure. We assist the local nationals in the performance of their duties.”
Parker retired from the 8th Judicial Circuit in November, but you would be hard pressed to call his new life “retirement.”
“It’s all new and different,” Parker said of his position in Kabul. “I worked in the Public Defender’s Offi ce in Gainesville for 38 years so this is a second career for me. And if I can keep my employer satisfied and the people that I am working with happy — and I continue to enjoy the work — this is something that I plan to do for a while.”
Since her 1995 graduation from the UF Levin College of Law, 8th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Stacy Scott has maintained close ties with UF Law. She is an adjunct faculty member teaching trial practice and served as interim director for the Public Defender Clinic, which involved training and supervising a class of interns each semester. Scott is an instructor in the Trial Practice program and Gerald T. Bennett Prosecutor and Public Defender Trial Training Program. She led the Trial team to two national civil rights championships in 2005 and 2007.