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Director Rachel Rossi of the Office for Access to Justice – Press Releases

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you Lori for this kind introduction. Thank you Geoff and the rest of the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD) board of directors for your incredible work and dedication to justice. It is an honor to participate in the NAPD Virtual Women’s Conference this year.

I come to all of you today from Riga, Latvia, where I attended the 2022 OECD Global Roundtable on Access to Justice. Globally, it is recognized that gaps in the justice system continue to prevent too many people from accessing justice. It’s stimulating to share strategies and innovations here, and to work together to find ways to rethink our legal systems so that they truly deliver justice for all.

But even over four thousand miles away, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be with you all today. As a former public defender, this particular gathering, this group, brings me such deep joy and it is truly an honor to be here.

When I first heard the theme of this year’s conference, I got goosebumps. “We are who we have been waiting for.” There is so much that can be gleaned from that one statement that exemplifies what women in public defense uniquely bring to the table.

The first image that came to mind when I heard this topic is that of Clara Shortridge Folz. Clara was born in Indiana, moved around a lot and finally ended up in California. At the age of 15, in 1864, Clara married. Her family struggled to make ends meet, and in 1876 Clara’s husband left her and their five children – a devastating blow for a 19th-century woman.

But Clara decided – in a surprising twist – that she wanted to be a lawyer. She was called “stupid”. She was told that “a woman’s place is at home”. And at that time only white male citizens could be lawyers.

But Clara didn’t take no for an answer. She drafted the bill that would allow women to become attorneys in the state of California, was successful and was…

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