– Reflections from the Field – Tommy Nosewicz

“I was able to accomplish many of the fellowship’s goals.
None of this would have been possible without Stanford’s generosity and
I can’t think of a better way to have begun my career as an attorney.”


The inaugural SPILF-SLS Fellow (2008) Thomas Nosewicz looks back on his year in New Orleans:


The SPILF-SLS fellowship funded my work from August 2008 to October 2009 as a Staff Attorney in the Special Litigation Department of the Orleans Public Defenders in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was an exciting year to be at OPD because the public defender in New Orleans underwent tremendous changes following Hurricane Katrina and what was once a part-time program is now a full-time office with staff attorneys, investigators and a commitment to client-centered representation. My project was designed to take advantage of Louisiana’s robust interlocutory appellate practice known as “supervisory writs” to quickly move recurring problems from the trial courts to resolution by the appellate courts. The goal was systemic change and was, in large parts, successful.


Through sheer luck, the year culminated in my briefing and arguing a case before the Louisiana Supreme Court about one of the problems the fellowship aimed to address. The issue presented was how long a warrantless arrestee could be held before a judge reviewed the arrest. Though both Unites States Supreme Court precedent and Louisiana law long ago established a 48 hour limit on such detention, the rule was nonetheless routinely ignored in Orleans Parish. The fellowship allowed me to take one of the many cases with this issue to the Louisiana Supreme Court and convince the Court to hear it on full briefing and oral argument. I was able to do the argument and, just a few weeks later, the Court ruled in our favor. The decision has resulted in the restructuring of parts of magistrate court, days of coverage in the local paper and, hopefully, increased credibility for the public defenders office as a whole.


I was also able to leave the office with a number of new resources addressing problems that came up every day in court. Thanks to the fellowship, the Orleans Public Defenders now have Louisiana-specific practice guides for searches incident to arrest, proper service of notice to come to court for defendants on bond, speedy trial rights, and other crucial areas of law.


In addition to these special projects, I was also the sole attorney or second-chair for clients accused of a range of crimes from marijuana possession to second-degree murder. This allowed me to litigate dozens of issues from the state’s burden of proof at a preliminary examination to the legality of New Orleans’s post-Hurricane Gustav curfew. I also litigated a case that resulted in the City Attorney for New Orleans agreeing to no longer prosecute people under the City’s patently unconstitutional “begging” law, which had been used to charge more than a thousand people annually.


Aside from producing court decisions and manuals, my experience also suggests a model that the Orleans Public Defenders can use in the future. At the oral argument for the warrantless arrestee case, one of the justices remarked that the Louisiana Supreme Court had been dealing with a flood of writs on the issue it was considering. Those writs had all come from the public defenders office and our tenacity seemed to help convince the court to finally review a case on the merits. But without the fellowship, which freed me from the crushing caseloads of most other staff attorneys and allowed me ample time to become familiar with Louisiana’s robust interlocutory appeal procedures, the deluge wouldn’t have happened.


After a year, I was able to accomplish many of the fellowship’s goals. None of this would have been possible without Stanford’s generosity and I can’t think of a better way to have begun my career as an attorney.