Advocacy Highlight: Pam Vickrey

Pam Vickrey

As the Executive Director of the Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys, Pam Vickrey has created a vibrant community of juvenile defenders, leading the way toward a well-trained, well-resourced, and well-connected statewide network of juvenile advocates, while also raising the level awareness of both policymakers and stakeholders about the importance of zealous defense advocacy.

Pam sees her role as the Executive Director of the Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys—the contract office providing juvenile public defense for children in Salt Lake County—as supporting and empowering her lawyers, so that they can best serve their clients. Under her leadership, turnover is low and job satisfaction is high. To create a supportive atmosphere, she provides a place where defenders can talk about cases and the challenges of their work, as well as providing resources that help them succeed. Her team of dedicated professionals includes a forensic social worker, investigators, and an appellate attorney. Juvenile attorneys are encouraged to participate in training opportunities and have access to a variety of resources, including evaluations. One of the most important resources her office provides is facilitating a multi-disciplinary team of passionate juvenile advocates committed to helping their clients exit the juvenile justice system with the best chance for success.

Pam’s strategies for empowering attorneys include encouraging them to be active in the community. As a result, attorneys participate on a variety of community boards and initiatives, which builds relationships and fosters trust and good will for each involved attorney, and for the office as a whole.

Another strategy for empowerment—providing attorneys with the knowledge base to provide well-rounded representation—is changing juvenile defense practice statewide. As the only Certified Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) trainer in Utah, Pam travels throughout the region to meet with and train juvenile defenders. Utah has a county-based defense system, which can make it difficult to even identify the people doing juvenile defense work.  JTIP provides a unique platform for Pam to reach out to defenders in other parts of state. Pam teaches attorneys that zealously advocating for a client’s expressed interest is a critical piece of representation, as is understanding the whole child and the context around that child. She believes that while juvenile defenders have a responsibility to protect the legal rights of youth, they must also look for ways to improve the system as a whole. Providing training starts a dialogue with other defenders about the challenges they face and how the Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys office can support them. Stories from around the state also inform Pam’s work on policy and systems reform.

Through her policy advocacy, Pam works to create a juvenile court system that understands the role of well-trained juvenile defenders. Training attorneys to be zealous advocates in a system that focuses on best interest creates a unique set of challenges. For this reason, Pam focuses on educating system wide stakeholders about what to expect from holistic juvenile representation. The results of this approach are encouraging as evidenced by Judges in Utah more fully understanding that strong juvenile defense is good for youth and for the court. The bench’s appreciation of the juvenile defense role continues to grow, leading to greater recognition throughout the juvenile justice system.

Pam has been instrumental in several sweeping reforms in Utah, all addressing some of the most challenging topics in juvenile defense. She served on the committee that developed Utah’s juvenile competency statute. The ten-year effort resulted in legislation which has helped bring about consistency in court practices and better outcomes for youth. That sweeping change was followed by equally significant reforms around shackling, transfer and direct file, and the appointment of counsel. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Pam, the state advisory board, legislators, and other vital stakeholders in the system, youth charged with felony offenses now have automatic appointment of counsel and youth charged with misdemeanors have more protections to prevent uniformed waiver of counsel. Anyone who has thought about tackling these issues in other states can appreciate the leadership and savvy necessary to bring about these reforms.

Pam’s commitment to systemic improvements comes in part from lessons she learned from her father, the first Director of the Utah Division of Youth Corrections. He taught her that preventing kids from entering the juvenile justice system was the best approach to improve their chances of success in life.  If they did enter the system, the aim should be for the shortest, least intrusive, most appropriate intervention that could be designed. With Pam’s leadership, Utah’s juvenile defender community has also embraced this lesson by utilizing best practices, current research, and zealous advocacy to best serve their young clients. Leadership by example places Pam among the many great leaders who make the juvenile defense community strong.

Pam is one of many great leaders that make the juvenile defense community strong. Read about other juvenile defense trailblazers that NJDC has highlighted.