At a young age Lisa Preddy’s mother knew she would be a lawyer.
While she was just 3 or 4 years old, during disagreements with her mother, Preddy would exclaim, “I have rights.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 31, she wraps up a 27-year career as a public defender. Her entire career has been in the 20th circuit. For 22 of those years she has been the district defender in Union.
The district defender manages the office overseeing cases in Franklin, Gasconade and Osage counties, as well a taking a full caseload.
Preddy, who now resides in St. Louis, lived in St. Clair during much of her career.
As a teen, Preddy worked for 88.1 The Park, a student-run radio station in Canton, Mich.
“It taught me public speaking and communications,” she said. “Working there was a game changer.”
She recently visited the station for a reunion marking its 45th anniversary.
Preddy, originally from rural Michigan, earned her undergraduate degree in communication from Michigan State University, and her juris doctorate from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
While attending Washington University she was an intern with the U.S Attorney’s Office, Eastern District, St. Louis.
“I really liked the people but I did not like the work,” Preddy commented. “That’s when I found out I wanted to be a public defender.”
Preddy explained she came from “limited means” and that was a factor in her career path.
“I never thought the kind of justice you should get depends on the money you have,” she said. “People say you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but you can’t without boots.”
“I see people at the low point in their life,” Preddy added. “I am always somebody who roots for the underdog.”
Preddy never expected to spend her career within the 20th District.
“I thought I would stay a few years and go on to something else,” she said, “and here I am.”
What kept her here is the people.
“The people I represent, the people I work with and the people of the community,” Preddy noted. “This has been a wonderful place to work.”
In 2011 she received the Defender of Distinction award from the Missouri State Public Defender agency.
Preddy also has served on several focus groups and committees for the public defender community, and legal field in general.
She has been a frequent trainer at Missouri Public Defender seminars and conferences and invited faculty at defender training programs in Kentucky and Louisiana, as well as being an informal mentor to many defenders across the state.
She also served on the Pew Center’s Justice Reinvestment Project Local Task Force.
Preddy is a past president of the 20th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, a member of the Sentencing Advisory Commission’s Prosecutor and Public Defender Advisory Group, and a speaker and presenter at local bar association and civic meetings.
Including district defender, the office has five attorneys and three support staff who cover the three-county district.
“We handle a large percentage of the criminal docket,” Preddy said. “So it is tough.”
The public defender’s office has grown since Preddy began her career when there were two attorneys and a part-time investigator.
Preddy has represented clients in high-profile cases, which has been a challenge because some cases are tried in the court of public opinion.
But it is the smaller cases that don’t make it into the media that Preddy says are the most memorable.
“It is the little stuff that does not make it into the paper,” she said. “Those ones I will remember the most — the little things that help somebody.”
Another memory she carries with her is the death of Associate Circuit Judge Michael Brown in 1996. Judge Brown was killed in a head-on collision east of St. Clair.
“I would see him two to three times a week,” Preddy said. “It was tough as a legal community to get past.”
A major accomplishment during Preddy’s tenure was the formation of Franklin County Drug Court in 2000. Preddy served on the planning committee.
“That was a big thing,” she said.
Preddy stated the pretrial release program implemented in 2016 has been an incredible help for those she represents.
“We have clients out on bond working and with their families instead of in jail,” she said.
The program aids those arrested on nonviolent charges who do not have the means to post bond. Rather than leaving them sitting in jail taking up space, they could be released on their own recognizance while they await their trial dates.
Preddy said many assistant public defenders don’t stick around long. Attorneys leave for private practice or move up the ranks,
“Attorneys who have worked here are now district defenders or deputy district defenders in another office,” she said.
Others have moved onto capital divisions, defending clients who face the death penalty.
“I am proud of the things the people who have come through this office have accomplished,” Preddy said. “The people I work with are like family.”
She hopes that a replacement is found soon to carry on the work at the office, noting there are many changes in the circuit and county in the legal field including the retirement of Circuit Judge Gael D. Wood earlier this month and Franklin County Prosecutor Bob Parks after next year.
“I would like the office to be stable,” Preddy said. “It would be nice for the office to be settled as these changes take place.”
There are no immediate plans to get back into law once she retires from the public defender’s office, Preddy said.
“It will take some time to get used to not being here,” she added. “I have plans to travel and then see what I would like to do next.
“There are a lot of books to be read and movies to be watched.”
Preddy hasn’t ruled out practicing law in the future.
“It might be fun to take some cases,” she commented.