Public defender likes having an impact on people

Monica Casias, 26, was recently hired as an assistant public defender with the 9th Judicial District public defender’s office.

Question: When were you officially hired as an attorney with the public defender’s office, and when did you start work here?
Answer: I began working in this office on Sept. 17 as a law clerk for three days because I had not yet been sworn in. I was sworn in on Monday, Sept. 22, and began in this office on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Question: What is your educational and professional background?
Answer: I’m a graduate of University of New Mexico. I have a bachelor’s degree in both English and communications. I received those in May of 2000, and I received my juris doctorate in May of 2003. This is my first career position.

Question: What attracted you to being a public defender instead of going into other areas of law that perhaps would be more lucrative?
Answer: Because I want to work with people. I want to help people who might not be able to afford representation. I feel I can impact more people’s lives this way. I’ve always had an interest in human rights and civil rights issues. I made the decision in law school that criminal defense is the area in which I wanted to practice. Mock trial competition opened my eyes to what criminal defense really is. I realized it’s not just keeping people out of jail. It’s more working with an individual to protect that individual’s rights, which is a necessity in our law under the Constitution.

Question: I understand your family has a long history in this state. Can you tell us something about your heritage?
Answer: My aunt has done a family tree. From what I recall in talking to her, my family goes back to the 1500s or 1600s whenever the first Spanish settlers came into this state. I love this state, but it gives me more reason to appreciate it. It’s a part of me.

Question: What has been your impression of the Clovis area? Have you experienced any culture shock from other places you’ve lived?
Answer: I’ve spent most of my life in Albuquerque. I didn’t realize it was a big city until I came here. While driving down the street, I’ll hear people using their horn, but it’s not for some major traffic mistake. It’s because they know each other. I’m still orienting myself to the southeast. I feel a little lost without mountains to guide me.

Question: What do you like best so far about the job?
Answer: I feel I’ve been able to reach some people. I’ve listened to my clients and been able to help them in a way beyond the courtroom.

Question: What do you think will be the toughest part of your job?
Answer: The hardest part for me so far is that I haven’t been able to separate myself from my clients. It has caused some sleepless nights, wondering if I have helped them the very best way I can.

Question: Do you have much opportunity to go back home to Albuquerque?
Answer: I’ve been here about a month, and I’ve only spent one weekend here. I’m going to the Balloon Fiesta this weekend. Weather permitting, I hope to fly in a balloon this weekend. But I also have a list of things I want to do in Clovis. I want to see the zoo, and I know there are some museums in the area. I hear there’s a festival coming up in Portales. I hope to go to that — and anything else that comes up.

— Compiled by CNJ senior writer Gary Mitchell