Babe #103: SAMANTHA SHAW,
Assistant Public Defender
Samantha is a mission-driven Babe who is doing incredibly important work as an Assistant Public Defender here in Jax. She was nominated by her sweet husband, Matthew, who also eloquently penned a vivid picture of who she is outside of her hustle. We'll let him tell you the rest:
"A radical, stylish public servant and ardent thrifter, Samantha has fashioned her courtroom wardrobe from Goodwill and Salvation army, making needed alterations herself. She lives in a tangerine beach bungalow, which she has decorated with touches of the Sonoma wine country, the gritty pacific northwest coastline, and a muted subtropical palette - sensibilities borrowed from time spent on both coasts - with her writer husband and their dog, Brick."
Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, FL
Current city: Atlantic Beach, FL
Alma mater: Golden Gate University School of Law
Degree: Juris Doctor; J.D.
Very first job: Lifeguard
Hustle: Assistant Public Defender
Babe you admire and why?
Fran Lebowitz. She moved to New York on her own in the 70s and started writing for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Since then, she has been a force for sharp, fearless, uncompromising, social and political criticism. She’s hilarious in her self-righteousness and somehow seems more erudite as she ages. Plus, her personal style is iconic.
Go-to adult beverage?
Red wine. (Anything around $9 that isn’t Barefoot or Rex Goliath)
Favorite beauty item?
A friend recently turned me onto Moroccanoil. So far, it has been my best attempt at taming my poofy hair in this godforsaken Florida humidity.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Sunset Aloha pizza from The Pizza Place in San Francisco.
Biggest pet peeve?
People telling me I should smile. :)
John Coltrane and Miles Davis in the mornings. Bob Dylan and The Band in the evenings. Haim and Beyonce on the weekends. Jimmy Buffett, always.
John Grisham novels.
Tell us about your hustle:
As an Assistant Public Defender, I represent indigent children and adults who have been accused of committing crimes. My job is to protect the presumption of innocence, due process, and the right to a fair trial.
What does your typical workday look like?
There’s certainly a managed and somewhat choreographed routine to the criminal justice system, but it’s something akin to organized chaos. I manage a caseload of around 150 clients. I spend the majority of my day in the courtroom, arriving an hour before the judge takes the bench. In the mornings, I’m typically handling arraignments, advising clients of the charges filed against them, discussing discovery (evidence and documents upon which the state has built its case against my client), et cetera. On late mornings and afternoons, we typically handle substantive hearings and motions. With the remaining hours of the day, I’m drafting motions, conducting depositions, meeting with clients, or preparing for trial.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I’ve been working since I was a teenager and have gone through undergrad, law school, and various internships in-between. Certainly through all of it, I’ve witnessed and endured some obstacles that I sincerely doubt would have been there had my gender been different. I think women, regardless of their career, absorb all kinds of slights and affronts - many seemingly subtle or unacknowledged. I will say, from my experience, it seems that we are not always granted the same assumption of competence from the world at large.
What is the gender ratio like in the judiciary system? Do you see it evolving?
Where I work in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, there are 47 judges, 13 of which are women. It’s plain to see there is a disparity, but it’s getting better. Hopefully Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s newly found and much-deserved status as a pop culture personality motivates the next generation of badass female lawyers and judges. Shout out to RBG!
How do you separate yourself from personal biases and opinions and prevent them from affecting your dedication to a case?
I’m very lucky in that my personal beliefs align with the duty of the office of the public defender. I truly believe every person has the right to fair treatment in the eyes of the law. If someone is arrested and charged with a crime, often times we as Public Defenders are that person’s only advocate. We have to determine: was this person treated fairly? Did the police follow the correct procedures in carrying out their investigation/arrest? If there was a search, was the search conducted properly? These are questions we’re responsible for answering, not only for our clients, but for the community at large – in order for the whole system to function properly and for everyone’s belief in the rule of law to be upheld. The odds are stacked against our clients. When you’re arrested in this country, everyone assumes you’re guilty. In many cases, society (and sometimes even the client’s friends and family) have given up on them. My job is to be a voice for the voiceless, regardless of the accusations or charges against them. I believe in the system and the importance of my job within it.
In your experiences in law, do you feel that the justice system protects everyone equally despite differences in class, race, gender, etc.?
Short answer: unfortunately, no. To explain this appropriately, however, would require a thesis paper length elucidation. Broadly, the justice system fails minority groups and people of lower socio-economic status. Mandatory minimum sentences, pre-trial release practices, forcing plea deals with threats of continued detention, or upcharges, all disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us – people of color and people with little to no money.
How did your experience living on the West Coast impact your professional and personal development?
I lived in San Francisco from 2009 to 2014. I moved there for law school and, in spending a good portion of my twenties there, the city had a lasting impact on my personal and professional development. SF is and has been one of the most inclusive, diverse, accepting places on the planet. Living in that environment at a very influential time in my life certainly broadened my social conscience. On the professional side, with SF being one of the most progressive places in the country, the general population tends to overwhelmingly respect and appreciate the work of the Public Defender’s Office. They are mission-aligned, so to speak. I was lucky to spend a few years during law school working alongside some very fine lawyers at the SF Public Defender’s Office. There’s a fervor, or zealotry for the mission there. Practicing law in Jacksonville has been helpful, as it’s been, at the very least, a test of my resilience and commitment to the mission of a Public Defender. Northeast Florida is a more conservative place and the public – if they are aware of the public defender’s office’s mission, at all – has somewhat of a disdain for Public Defenders. To practice this kind of law here, you have to have some grit and be earnest about your beliefs.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I volunteer as a mentor at Operation New Hope, an organization that provides job training and placement to formerly incarcerated people.
What motivates and inspires you?
What does success look like to you?
Feeling proud of my work, everyday. It’s very hard to love a job all 365 days of the year, but I’m always proud to do what I do. Even when I have really crappy days, I’m motivated by the overarching purpose of my job.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Commit to and don’t shy away from challenges that may seem beyond your purview. As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve tried to volunteer myself for things or take on tasks for which I may or may not feel mentally ready. It started in law school. I’d be the first to volunteer to argue a motion, and even if I was terrified and wasn’t sure if I could do it or not, I knew I would have to learn eventually. I found that instinct served me well. Today, it might be taking a case that nobody wants, which might involve some motion or procedure that’s fraught or difficult. You’re never completely ready for everything, but you have to trust that you can put in the work to figure it out.
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