When Lauri Traub, an assistant public defender in the 1st District, heard that a former client, Brian Fitch, was accused of murdering a police officer, she knew her name was next on the chart for taking the case. That was likely the last night until the verdict when she got a full night’s sleep.
Over the course of the case, the trial had to be moved to St. Cloud, and she spent three weeks commuting, interviewing, researching, and investigating. She routinely got fewer than four hours of sleep, but was still on her toes every day in court. What surprised her most wasn’t the intensity of the trial, it was the surge of negative public comments that came with it.
“I think people believed I should just do the minimum, or plead him out, rather than offer the most vigorous representation possible,” she says. “But I became a public defender because I believe that everyone deserves an advocate. Some of the most passionate, committed people I know are in public defense, and I’m proud to be part of that group.”
What many people thought would be an open-and-shut case turned out to be hotly contested. Because of Traub’s vigorous defense, the jury was out over nine hours before returning a guilty verdict. Many in the legal community felt that Fitch had received a comprehensive defense, supported not just by Traub, but also by the public defenders who supported her throughout the trial and helped her brainstorm and strategize. “Even when you’re the person standing up in court, everyone in this office works together, and that’s hugely helpful,” she says.
Just a few days after the verdict, Traub went back to her usual workload of nearly 100 cases at a time. “That’s just how it works,” she says, with a laugh. “You keep going.”
Even with that many cases on her desk, she still finds time to keep honing her skills, particularly training in forensics. She’s attended hundreds of hours of class time, much of which she’s paid for herself, so she can better represent her clients. Continually learning more about drug testing, DNA, accident reconstruction, and firearms gives her the ability to be a better attorney, she notes.
“Forensics has always interested me,” Traub says. “Most of the training I’ve undertaken is because I’ve had a case where I felt like I don’t know enough. It’s hard when you don’t understand the science, because then you don’t see whether there’s something incorrect on a report.”
Despite the heavy caseload and forensic classes in her so-called free time, Traub still makes time to mentor others in the profession. “When you work with people who are new, they’re so enthusiastic, and that just refreshes my own enthusiasm for what I do,” she says. “At the end of the day, I just appreciate the feeling that I’ve made a difference.”