Unlicensed public defender graduated from law school in 2016

Updated: Jun. 24, 2019 at 9:42 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Walking across the stage, it appears Ashley Crawford did earn a Juris Doctor degree from Loyola university in 2016. But earning the degree doesn’t give you the license to practice law.

Rafael Goyeneche with the Metro Crime Commission said although it is not unheard of for people to act as an attorney without a license, he said this scenario is like nothing he’s ever seen.

“I’ve seen some people prosecuted for practicing law without a license, but nothing that approaches the allegations of this circumstance,” Goyeneche said.

According to a statement from the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Orleans Public Defenders office requested certificates of good standing for their attorneys after they couldn’t find record for one of their employees, Ashley Crawford. It’s unclear why the public defender’s office initially made the request.

Three days later, the public defenders' office emailed the judges that Crawford cannot represent any more clients, and apologized for any problems or disruptions.

“It could go, and probably will go, into a criminal investigation as well as a civil investigation that could result in damages that the Public Defenders’ Office may be responsible for paying,” Goyeneche said.

Crawford represented more than 100 indigent clients in all 12 sections of criminal court according to the District Attorney’s Office. Goyeneche said it will be quite the task for investigators to go through all of those cases.

“Those convictions and guilty pleas could be set aside in all that. There are more questions than answers right now,” Goyeneche said.

But Goyeneche said there’s a chance it may not be as big an issue. Crawford was hired in September as a public defender and Goyeneche said new attorneys generally handle lower level, non-violent felonies and misdemeanors as opposed to jury trial cases. And some of her former clients and victims in those cases simply may not want to go back to court.

“We may have to wait some time before we know the final implications as to what this person was thinking, but I think it is a sad day for the criminal justice system,” Goyeneche said.

The DA is now investigating Crawford for practicing law without a license, which means the feigning attorney could face both criminal and civil charges herself.

“It truly is a black eye for the criminal justice system in general, and in particular for the public defender’s office,” Goyeneche said.

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