Baton Rouge attorney Marci Blaize finally has her dream job after working 23 years in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer in state and federal courts.
Blaize was recently named as the supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender in charge of the Federal Public Defender Office that serves the Baton Rouge-based Middle District of Louisiana.
"This has been a goal of mine. I'm just so excited it came to fruition," she said in an interview this month at her new office.
Blaize, 50, replaces Mark Upton, 71, who retired Sept. 30 after serving 13 years in the post that Blaize now holds.
Blaize called Upton one of her mentors.
"I'm really glad that Marci's got this job. She's going to be a terrific, terrific public defender. The office is in good hands," he said.
Blaize is no stranger to federal court.
Since 2007, she's been a member of the Middle District's Criminal Justice Act Panel of attorneys that federal judges turn to when the Assistant Federal Public Defender is unable to represent an indigent federal criminal defendant.
Even though Upton retired as the supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender, he said he will serve as a member of the panel.
Blaize, who in 2017 received the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer's Criminal Justice Act Panel Attorney Award, said her private law practice had focused more on federal court the last 10 years, so what she is doing now in her new job is "really not much different than what I was doing before."
"It's really been seamless," she noted.
Blaize said there was a national search for Upton's successor. She was chosen by Rebecca Hudsmith, the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District and Western District of Louisiana. The Middle District judge's approved Hudsmith's recommendation.
Blaize described shutting down her private practice as both challenging and "closing down a chapter of my life."
"I was ready for a change," she acknowledged.
Blaize said she's looking forward to working with Ron Gathe, the nominee for the U.S. Attorney position in the Middle District. She called Gathe a contemporary of hers.
"I have a lot of respect for Ron," she added.
Upton has been practicing law for 42 years and said it was time to pull back on the reins.
"I've been doing it a long time," he said.
Upton characterized a government-paid Federal Public Defender Office as "the Constitution in action." He said about 70% of criminal defendants in the Middle District require the services of the office.