Iowa Client Advocates make the news

PFJ Client Advocates with the Linn County Advocate were featured on KCRG's six o'clock news

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A woman from eastern Iowa is marking a year of bringing a different approach to people represented by public defenders in Linn County.

Emily Galvin-Almanza co-founded the nonprofit Partners for Justice in 2018 after working as a public defender for roughly a decade in California and New York. She was born and raised in Iowa City, attending Lincoln Elementary School and West High School. Her co-founder is also from Iowa City.

One of her stops throughout the years was at The Bronx Defenders in New York City.

”Being at the holistic defender was amazing,” Galvin-Almanza said. “Being at Bronx Defenders was beautiful. Beautiful enough that when I could actually meet my client’s needs and work on housing and getting parents back with their kids and fighting eviction that I kind of got to thinking, ‘Can we help make this the case everywhere?”

Public defenders work with low-income people.

”The US Constitution gives everybody living in this country the right to council if they are accused of a crime, but it doesn’t say how that council is supposed to be set up,” Galvin-Almanza said. “So if you’re a person of means, you have a lot of money and you are accused of a crime and that accusation impacts your job or custody of your kids or your ability to keep your housing, you would be able to hire a lawyer who would be able to fight all those other kinds of cases.”

“Most of the people in our criminal court system are not wealthy. About 80% of accused people in America are so poor that they get a public defender,” Galvin-Almanza said.

Partners for Justice pairs public defenders with case managers to help clients outside of criminal cases.

”The problem with focusing on just the case is that the criminal legal system isn’t very good at solving the problems that bring people into contact with it,” said Jeremy Elges, a senior staff attorney with Linn County Advocates.

For the last 22 years, Elges has done court-appointed criminal defense.

“I would meet with the client, go to court with them, handle their criminal case, we’d talk about the legal issues. We might get a little bit into what’s going on in their life that led up to this criminal charge, we may generally talk about some things that might be able to help them, but typically not,” Elges said. “We’d be focused really just on handling the criminal case and just be leaving the rest of their life out of it.”

For the past year, two case managers from Partners for Justice have been stationed at the Linn County Advocate’s office, working to connect low-income people with resources like housing, employment, and more.

It’s a different approach to public defense work, something attorney Jeremy Elges welcomes.

”It’s really easy to feel like you’re not important and the system is just chewing you up and spitting you out so this allows them to have more of a human connection with us and with this process and treats them as a human being, not just another case, another number,” Elges said.

All to help the future of those who need a public defender.

”So really what the goal is here is to lower incarceration in a community and at the same time help people connect to those things that we know make communities thrive and make them safer,” Galvin-Almanza said.

”We know that when people have access to stable housing, when they have access to healthy and nutritious food, when they live in safer communities, they don’t get in trouble. they don’t get caught up in the legal system,” said Antonio Ivarra, one of the case managers stationed in Linn County.

From January 1 to March 31, 2024, Partners for Justice case managers helped 55 clients in Linn County.

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