Wendy E. Garrison is a public defender in Springfield, where the joy of winning a fair resolution for her clients mixes with the strain of a heavy workload and the occasional anxiety of defending people she believes are truly not guilty and who stand to lose everything if she can’t help them.
What inspired you to get involved in the justice system? I have always had an interest in justice, and a sense of fairness. From the time that I was a small child I told my parents that I wanted to be a lawyer. I have no relatives who practice law, so I think that it just developed from my basic belief in right and wrong, and my inability to be a rule breaker. I started law school after undergraduate school and during that first year had an experience where an individual broke into my apartment while I was home. I didn’t return to law school the next fall, but obtained a job and worked for six years. My desire to practice law finally overcame my fear, and I returned to law school to complete my degree. It is ironic that I now practice indigent criminal defense. I have discovered that my clients are people who often suffer from mental health issues, addiction and sometimes just make poor decisions. Being able to assist them in addressing these issues through the legal system can be rewarding, especially when I am able to direct them to a better path in life.
What has been your favorite part of the job?There are many aspects of my job which I love. I love being a public defender. I most love the camaraderie of the Missouri Public Defender System, and working with many other lawyers who care about their clients and the outcomes of their cases. The other lawyers in my office, and in the entire system, are always ready to brainstorm cases, help with ideas of defense and explain the latest changes in the law. We all equally wish that we have a lower caseload to be able to represent our clients more efficiently and timely, but everyone in my office, even when overworked, is willing to help another with their cases.
What is something that would surprise people about you? I have now practiced law for 21 years, and it would surprise most people to know that I worked for six years as a travel agent, between undergraduate and law school. I have had the opportunity to travel the world, and obtained a love for travel that has continued through my life. Traveling extensively through the globe has given me an appreciation for our judicial system and democracy. When I talk about my travel agent days, I often see a puzzled expression on other’s faces.