Fighting for the Innocent
atherine L. Stagg had always wanted to make a difference in public interest law or law reform cases.
After her graduation from LSU Law Center, she worked for a general law practice in Denham Springs, and then as a staff attorney for Capital Area Legal Services Corp. in Baton Rouge, representing low-income clients in civil matters. She also worked for the Louisiana Department of Justice in the Consumer Protection Section; as the executive director of the North Louisiana Legal Assistance Corp. in Monroe; and as a solo practitioner focusing on family law, criminal defense and Social Security disability. She has also provided legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence.
Her toughest case came when she was working as a sole practitioner at Stagg Law Office.
“It was a case from the public defender that they could not handle due to a conflict of interest: armed robbery with a firearm of the manager of a Walgreen’s store, with a possible sentence of 15 to 104 years, all without the benefit of suspension of sentence or probation or parole,” she recalls. “The client was a teenager, still 17, at the time of offense in 2008. It was now 2011. The case had been pending for over three years. No one wanted to take it to trial.”
All of the other lawyers on the case had truly believed that the teenager was not guilty, and so they had not wanted to go to trial or encourage him to plead to a lesser offense. Even his employer, she learned, believed in his innocence and voluntarily came to court every time there was a hearing to show his support.
“Unfortunately, when I got the case, the trial judge said, ‘No more continuances,’ so I had to go to trial,” she said. “By the time the first day came, I was so stressed that I was sick to my stomach and felt like I would faint before the trial even started. The judge kept suggesting we plead him out, and I kept saying he was innocent, and the judge and A.D.A. snickered that I was so naïve.”
Jury selection started, and Stagg was so tense that she went to her car on her lunch break and reclined the driver’s seat while doing deep meditation breathing to calm down.
“I returned to the courtroom a few minutes before the jury panel was expected,” she said. “The A.D.A. pulled me aside and told me that he met with the victim at lunch and showed her my client’s police interview for the first time, and she said that my client was definitely not the robber. Case dismissed.”
Stagg has realized her childhood dream of helping out those who need it most and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
Hometown: Sulphur, La.
Education: Northwestern State University, B.A., 1973
LSU Law Center, J.D., 1977
Firm: Stagg Law Office
Areas of Expertise: Criminal defense, family law, Social Security disability, and general law practice