Ryan Reid is sometimes asked how he can take on the cases he does.
The answer to that, he said, is quite simple: If he were in a similar situation, he would expect a lawyer to treat him the same way he does his own clients.
As an assistant state public defender in the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Green Bay office, Reid finds himself working on cases involving matters ranging from sexual assault to the termination of parental rights.
Of these cases, Reid said: “I just look at it as it’s not my place to judge.” He treats his clients just like an attorney would look at a client writing a will or trust, or as a lawyer who is working at a corporate firm.
“I think just meeting people where they are, not judging them, not having any preconceived notions of them,” he explained.
Reid particularly relies on a lesson he learned at a young age from his father. When someone is accused of a crime and is facing serious penalties, Reid was taught, he has two choices: He can either pay for a lawyer and get a plea deal, or rely on a public defender and get a poor outcome.
Reid’s uncle, who is serving a prison sentence, couldn’t afford a lawyer of his own. That was just one reason why his father’s lesson didn’t sit well with him. So, after learning about defense work in college, Reid decided he could become a public defender himself.
“I truly believe it shouldn’t matter in the justice system whether you can afford an attorney,” he said.
Reid grew up in the Twin Cities area and attended law school in Vermont. It was during that time he told his adviser that he enjoyed litigating cases. In response, she suggested he either work as a district attorney or public defender. His choice between the two couldn’t have been easier.
Reid has also taken a role coaching others, both formally and informally.
But oftentimes these cases come with a lot of baggage. That’s why, Reid said, he thinks helping others is important. To that end, he makes it a point to introduce new colleagues to the office and to judges, as well as just to be there when a newcomer needs to talk through a case.
“This job, this is a lot,” Reid said. “There’s a lot emotionally, there’s a lot of research and writing, there’s a lot of communicating with your clients. And they rarely talk just about their cases.”
Reid is also working with others in developing an OWI Treatment Court in Brown County, which he expects will be up and running sometime next year. He also serves on the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.