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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: June, 2007
Author: Mary Angell

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Diane M. Lozano - Wyoming's 6th Public Defender

When Diane Lozano was a girl, other kids her age wanted to be Princess Diana or Indiana Jones. Not Diane.

“I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 12 or 13 years old. I wanted to be Atticus Finch,” Lozano recently told the Wyoming Lawyer. “I was raised to always believe you should help people, and I think this is where my skills are best suited.”

Like the protagonist of Harper Lee’s novel, Wyoming’s new state public defender has a passion for helping people in trouble with the law.

Lozano earned both her undergraduate degree in political science and her law degree from the University of Wyoming. She began working in the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office in 1994 as an attorney; in 2000, she was promoted to supervising attorney in the Laramie County trial division. In February, Governor Dave Freudenthal appointed her to succeed Ken Koski, who was killed last fall in an accident while backpacking in the Wind River Mountains.

Public defense is a job other attorneys seldom envy and the general public struggles to understand. Lozano said she’s often been asked by those outside the legal profession how her conscience allows her to defend people she knows are guilty of crimes.

“Sure, there are people—like victims of crimes—who don’t necessarily like what we are, but our system doesn’t work without a good public defender program,” she said. “Mostly we represent people who have not had the charmed life most of us have had. They’ve been exposed to drugs and violence at a young age. Poverty makes people make decisions most of us don’t make.

“Every once in a while, you have a client you don’t like, who has done horrible things,” she continued. “My job is to make sure the system works fairly no matter what. It’s really about helping people, not judging them.”

Public defenders are usually idealistic people, Lozano said. “Sometimes you get cynical,” she said. “It’s hard not to sometimes. But we’ve had people working for us 10, 20 or 30 years—and somehow those people still have some idealism left.”

Born and raised in Torrington, Lozano attributes her idealism and broadmindedness to her upbringing. She describes her parents as liberals.

“Mom was one of those people who was always bringing home a stray dog, always trying to help people. Mom was a big JFK fan. She probably kind of regrets not having gone into the Peace Corps,” she said. “Dad was a Vietnam vet who was devastated when Bobby Kennedy was killed. He thinks a lot of society lacks general compassion for people and jumps too easily to judge people.”

Lozano’s brother and two sisters also exemplify their parents’ compassion for society’s less fortunate. Her twin sister, Dawn, is a legal assistant for a firm in Portland, Oregon, that handles public defense. “She buys homeless people dinner,” Lozano said.

Lozano, 38, perhaps Wyoming’s youngest state public defender to date, was the last attorney the late public defender Leonard Munker hired before his retirement. She worked with him during the summer of 1993, preparing briefs while she studied for the bar exam. “His staff would have worked for him no matter what—for nothing,” she said.

Lozano also spoke highly of Sylvia Hackl, another of her predecessors. “When I first started here, we had one computer. You had to hand-write your motions,” she said. “After Sylvia, we all had computers, nice offices, salaries commensurate with other attorneys’. She brought us up to that level.”

“Ken continued that,” Lozano said. “He was involved on a national level, with national defenders. People from outside came in to teach us at seminars.”

Koski’s death was a blow to Lozano, as it was for everyone in the office. “I worked with him every day for 10 years,” she said, adding that often staff members still analyze how they handle a situation in light of how they think Koski would have handled it.

She said she once told Hackl that someday she’d like to have her job. “She remembered that, but I don’t,” Lozano said. “I didn’t think it would be now.”

Now she oversees the 15 field offices around the state and a total of 104 employees. She’s been traveling around the state getting to know the attorneys in the public defenders’ offices, putting faces with names.

“They’re all people who feel the way I do,” she said. “They could make more money elsewhere, but they’re committed.”

Her goal for the future is to maintain the current program—which she calls a model for rural states—but also to increase training and encourage public defenders to work more as a team.

“My biggest goal is that we are a client-based agency,” she said. “I want to teach all our attorneys and staff to believe in that approach, not just as an agency, but as a member of the government.”

The caseload of the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to its website.

“It’s because of meth,” Lozano said, adding that it’s Wyoming’s worst problem and one that impacts the Public Defender’s Office more than any other factor. “It’s the most insidious thing. We need to get people treatment while it’s in its early stages before it becomes generational, before it leads to violent crimes.”

Drug courts are time-savers for public defense and law enforcement agencies and life-savers for meth users, she said.

“Sometimes they need to be in prison, but everyone is coming around to the notion that there are some people we can treat and we should try. My philosophy is if we get those people treatment, they don’t come back into our system,” she said. “Too many attorneys look at short-term solutions rather than long-term. Our state does not have enough treatment facilities.”

Lozano dismisses the notion that public defense is the most challenging career choice for attorneys, saying it’s easier because most of her clients plead guilty and are just looking for substance abuse treatment and the most lenient sentence possible.

“It’s not necessarily about whether they did it, but whether the state charged them with the right crime,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than believing the person you’re representing is innocent because there’s no guarantee that person will work out of the courtroom with a not- guilty verdict. That’s the scariest thing in the world.”

Weight training and cardio workouts help Lozano reduce stress and keep her in shape. She’s planning to buy some in-line skates this spring and try skating with her 6-year-old son, Simon.

In her spare time, Lozano enjoys books and movies, and it’s easy to see by looking around her office that she’s a movie buff. Directly across from her desk, Denzel Washington glowers from an enormous poster displayed prominently over her credenza. The poster is for the movie “Hurricane,” the story of a boxer wrongly convicted of murder. Hanging on the wall behind her desk is a promotional poster for the Civil War movie “Glory.”

On another wall, a space awaits a large, full-color print of Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winning horse whose injury in the Preakness Stakes crushed his chance at the Triple Crown and eventually led to his death.

Although she doesn’t gamble, Lozano loves horse racing.

“I’m a big Barbaro fan,” she said with a smile. “The Kentucky Derby is a big deal for me."

It’s obvious Lozano is as comfortable in her job as Public Defender as she is in her new office.

“I’m really excited to have this job,” she said. “I feel very lucky. I knew my whole life what I wanted to do. I love coming to work every day. I love what I do.“

Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a frequent contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer.


Copyright © 2007 – Wyoming State Bar

     

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