The People Behind Dallas County: Lynn Pride Richardson
This story is part of the Dallas County Messenger’s series showcasing the people serving Dallas County. Lynn Pride Richardson is the Chief Public Defender in the Public Defender’s Office.
Explain your specific role at the County.
As Chief Public Defender, my role as a Dallas County Department Head is to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the largest and second-oldest Public Defender’s Office in the State of Texas. My role includes providing effective legal representation for indigent clients in the criminal, juvenile, family and mental illness courts.
“I am motivated by the belief that all public-defender clients are entitled to receive superior and effective legal representation.”Lynn Pride Richardson, Chief Public Defender
Why are you passionate about the Public Defender’s Office? Who or what at Dallas County motivates you to get out of bed each day?
I am motivated by the belief that all public-defender clients are entitled to receive superior and effective legal representation. Working in the courts over the last 24 years and serving as the chief of this department for the last 12 years drives my passion and commitment to ensure equal treatment and the elimination of disparities in the courts, especially in the criminal justice system.
What would County constituents be pleasantly surprised to learn about your department or the services it provides?
National studies and statistics confirm that clients overall receive better criminal justice outcomes when they are represented by a public defender’s office. Public defenders are Dallas County employees paid salaries with benefits, reporting to a chief who is accountable to the Dallas County Commissioners. We are different from court-appointed attorneys, who work in private practice and are paid by Dallas County on a case-by-case basis.
“I am most proud of the fact that the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office has taken a client-centered, holistic approach to client representation.”Lynn Pride Richardson, Chief Public Defender
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office has taken a client-centered, holistic approach to client representation. We have implemented diversion programs, specialty courts and a conditional dismissal docket, which also reduces the number of individuals getting criminal convictions. As a result, this has significantly reduced the number of poor people and people of color being sentenced to prison and county jail time. Mass incarceration has had a devastating effect on communities of color and a particularly disparate impact on African-American men.
What’s an example of a creative solution your department deployed to improve a County process or help a County constituent?
The Dallas County Public Defender’s Office created a Mental Health Division (MHD), which has grown substantially over the years in order to represent mentally ill defendants charged with crimes or facing civil commitments. Years ago, Dallas County was in crisis due to the overwhelming number of mentally ill inmates being arrested and housed in the Dallas County jail. The jail population increased substantially, and the jail was ill-equipped to house and treat seriously mentally ill offenders. The program was created to transition mentally ill clients from the jail or the hospital into treatment. This was accomplished by the implementation of programs like the Public Defender Conditional Dismissal Docket, Outpatient and In Jail Competency Restoration, civil commitments and through building a team of specially-trained lawyers to represent mentally ill clients in the courts. This had a significant impact on the jail population and the courts and facilitated more treatment for poor people in the community.
What is your favorite part of working for Dallas County?
My favorite part of working for Dallas County is working with the wonderful, hardworking attorneys and staff of the Public Defender’s Office who fight for the rights of our clients every day.