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This Local Attorney with 17 Years of Experience is Running to Become First Female Public Defender for Polk, Highlands, and Hardee Counties

blair allen

by James Coulter

When most people think of lawyers, they think of one of the highest-paying jobs second only to doctors. However, when Blair Allen started her career as a lawyer 17 years ago, she did not do it for the money. She did it to advocate for people who needed the most support. She did it for her clients.

“I did not become a lawyer for prestige and wealth,” she said. “I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless in our system, to advocate for our clients who all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Even with the most challenging of clients, those clients who may be dealing with mental illness or drugs or trauma, I remind myself that this is someone else’s child, that this person’s life has meaning.”

Born and raised in Polk County, Blair Allen began her career path after her high school graduation from Lakeland Senior High School in Lakeland. She went to college in Virginia at Washington & Lee University before attending and then graduating law school in St. Petersburg from Stetson College of Law.

Her career officially started in 2006 at the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow. She worked there as a prosecutor for a year before transitioning to the Public Defender’s Office in 2007. For the past 16+ years, she has served in nearly every division of the office, allowing her to learn every aspect of public defense, and thus making her the most qualified to run for Public Defender.

“It gives me a unique perspective, knowing the challenges we face and difficulties we face and knowing how to do the job and do it well,” she said.

Over the years, her mentors and those who knew her best encouraged Allen to consider running for Public Defender in the future. They saw her level of dedication to the job, to the clients, and to the justice system.

“It was not a decision that I made quickly or lightly,” Allen said. “I knew how hard the campaign would be on our family…I prayed about it, and when the decision was made to do this, I felt a moment of clarity, of peace, and of confirmation that I was meant to be the next Public Defender. Because I believe in our community and a bright future for it. I believe in public service, and the best way to serve our community is for me to serve as the elected Public Defender.”

Allen begins with her three ideals that have served as the modus operandi through her career. The first of these ideals, ideally enough, is idealism. Allen firmly believes that every client deserves a fair defense. She is an idealist believer in the justice system. She became an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office to ensure that all of the clients’ rights are protected—that they are protected—which is a fundamental right that our Constitution is based on and that our adversarial justice system depends on.

Her second ideal is fairness. Through her life and career, she has carried with her the idea of fundamental fairness, challenging the adage that “life isn’t fair” by striving to make it fair – for everyone. As such, everyone deserves a fair and speedy trial, as guaranteed by the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“There’s a misconception that public defenders do not like rules, but we do, we just expect those rules to be applied fairly and equally to everyone,” Allen said. “To the prosecutors, to law enforcement, to our clients, regardless of whether that client is poor or a person of color or a person struggling with mental illness. We believe that the justice system must be fair to everyone because that is what it is fair.”

Her third and final motivating ideal is service. Being able to serve her community by defending the vulnerable and giving a voice to the voiceless through her clients has motivated her to wake up every morning and go to work for the past 16 years. And she only expects to continue her commitment to service through her position as the elected Public Defender.

“My career has been a commitment to service,” she said. “I have spent countless hours with clients in trial, spending nights and weekends meeting with clients at the jails, or staying up to research and prepare a client’s defense. I have spent time away from family. I It is often a thankless job. But I am committed to being a public servant who is compassionate, resilient, and unwavering in the belief that everyone deserves an advocate in life, and sometimes we are the first real advocate that individual has. Putting others before our self is the very essence of a public defender. That is who I am.”

As the elected Public Defender, she expects to tackle one of the biggest problems facing criminal justice, which is retention of staff while facing increased caseloads. Currently, the annual turnover for public defenders throughout the state of Florida is about 28 percent, which is huge.

“So, it is really challenging to figure out creative ways to retain our experienced defenders and staff,” she said. “But I am optimistic that we will be able to figure out ways to keep those quality people on a long-term basis because that is what our system needs.”

Overall, with her motivating values of idealism, fairness, and service, Blair Allen has high expectations in becoming the first female elected Public Defender for Polk, Highlands, and Hardee Counties.

“I believe in what we do as public defenders: defending our clients, serving as a check on any government overreach, and challenging the system so that the rules are equally applied to everyone, regardless of who that person is,” she said. “I believe in our clients – their plights, their trauma, and even their mistakes. I believe in their humanity. I believe in being a public servant, placing others’ needs before my own, giving back to the community that raised me so that I can be a positive change-maker in it. And most of all, I believe that I am the best candidate for Public Defender. I am by no means perfect or infallible, but what defines a leader is the ability to make hard decisions and to lives with the consequences of those decisions. And to lead by example, with integrity, with high expectations, and with the optimism that together, we can make a difference.”

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Staff Reporter

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