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Week in Review: March 14-18

Happy Friday! Remember when I said that OJD has been busy? Well, this blog will explain why. We have a great new tip for you, an introduction, and a peek into the 2022 Intensive Juvenile Defender Training that was held last Thursday & Friday. So without further ado, let's get it started.


Yolanda Fair will serve as the OJD Project Attorney managing both the OJJDP and GCC grants OJD was awarded in 2021. She received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Tufts University in 2009. In 2013, she obtained her Juris Doctor for the University of North Carolina School of Law and was admitted to the North Carolina State Bar. She currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina.

Prior to joining OJD, Yolanda was an Assistant Public Defender with the Buncombe County Public Defender’s Office for over eight years. During her time there, she represented youth in delinquency court and adults in criminal matters in both district and superior courts. Yolanda is a skilled trial attorney and advocate, having tried many jury cases to verdict as well as many bench trials. She is a passionate advocate for those who are marginalized in our society and loves being able to give youth a voice throughout the legal process. She is committed to addressing racial disparities and equity in the justice system and is a member of the North Carolina Racial Equity Network. She has spoken about efforts to address racial disparities in the legal system and has led local efforts to address race in the criminal justice system.

Her interest in youth justice and advocacy started with her participation in the UNC Youth Justice Clinic. She is motivated to help and assist attorneys throughout the state provide the best possible representation for their young clients. In 2016, she received the Laurette of the Year Award from OpenDoors Asheville, a nonprofit that seeks to provide educational opportunities to youth, for her advocacy of youth in juvenile court. In 2017, she received the James E. Williams award from the Public Defender Association of NC for her efforts to bring education and trainings about racial equity to Buncombe County.

Outside of work, Yolanda also enjoys volunteering in her community. She serves as a co-chair for the Buncombe County Safety and Justice Challenge Racial Equity Workgroup and serves on local non-profits boards that have an emphasis on providing services to youth in the community.


OJD has been participating in the annual UNC School of Government Intensive Juvenile Defender training and it’s been so wonderful to see familiar faces and new ones too! This week’s tip of the week comes courtesy of Kellie Mannette’s session about telling your client’s story. Kellie talked about the importance of understanding your whole client, not just the “facts” of what happened leading to the child being in court. Understanding who your child is and their whole story enables you to provide better advocacy throughout your representation. Being able to explain your child’s background to the prosecutor before they make a plea offer may influence any offers made. Being able to frame your client’s actions as alleged in a bigger picture context may help during the adjudication phase by helping the fact-finder understand your client and their actions better – and possibly leading to the dismissal of the charges. A great example that came up was telling your clients’ story when dealing with a Resist/Delay/Obstruct charge. “Your Honor, John knew he didn’t do anything wrong, but having seen his father beaten by an officer when he was so young made such an impact on him that the trauma caused a fight or flight response and so John ran.” While the legal basis you argue may be that there was no legal basis for the stop or interaction, going back further and telling your client’s story and why they were so afraid of the officer in the first place that they chose to run will help your fact finder understand the child and want to find your client not responsible.

So how do you get to know your child’s whole story? First of all, take time to just talk. Get out of the office, take a walk down the street, ask permission to go get ice cream with the child – just get out of the stuffy office and chat with the child. Ask them questions about things that interest them – sports, social media, friends, family. As you build your rapport and relationship, they will feel more comfortable sharing their background and story with you. Maybe you can go over to their house and they can show you around. Imagine the impact it will have on the judge to be able to say, “Your Honor, Jane shares a bedroom with her two younger sisters, and she did not get any sleep the night before this happened because her little sister was running a fever and crying all night.” Even if you don’t have the time or ability to physically go visit with your client in their home, maybe you set up a “video tour” or FaceTime and get a virtual tour of their home life. Young people are much more comfortable with technology in the current day and age and even a video tour or FaceTime will help build the rapport and relationship you need to be the best advocate you can be for your client. The better you get to know your client, the better you can tell their story in court – and the better an outcome you can achieve at any stage in the process. Thanks, Kellie for sharing your tips and insight with us!

2022 Intensive Juvenile Defender Training

Take a look at the work (and the fun) that OJD had with everyone at the School of Government. Thanks, Eric and Burcu for the pictures!



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