Trial Lawyer Talk

Trial Lawyer Talk


60: Laura O'Sullivan

March 13, 2020

Laura O’Sullivan is a wonderful criminal defense lawyer who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. She discusses a criminal case for a young man with a tumultuous childhood who was in foster care until the age of 18 and was facing lifelong consequences for allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Laura O’Sullivan is a trial and appellate attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. Currently an Assistant Public Defender in the state of Missouri, she previously was an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Law, and held a variety of other positions including at the Midwest Innocence Project. Laura’s specialties include trials, post convictions, criminal and family law, teaching students, and training attorneys, managers, investigators and support staff.

During the young man’s trial, several witnesses helped tell the story of his life. The jury’s decision restored Laura’s confidence in the love and openness of people to really listen and to reach a verdict based not just on the incident at hand, but instead on a person’s whole life.

Laura discusses how she doesn’t grow bitter and cynical representing clients who sometimes have done terrible things. She shares that often her clients have had difficult childhoods and are suffering from addiction or mental health issues and are facing a system that has failed. She’s learned from her clients that people have different needs, and sometimes a need is to be heard. Her role is not to control, but instead “to do the best (she) can and to help her clients through what is probably one the most difficult times in their lives.”

Laura then turns to her work on constitutional challenges in Missouri.  “Missouri’s public defender system is 49th out of the 50 states in terms of funding. So, we have an underfunded and overworked public defender system. We have more clients than we can handle. What we’ve done in Kansas City is to look at our ethical obligations and the constitutional rights of our clients to have an attorney.”  Clients, attorneys and the ACLU sued various state offices.  An update can be read here.

Laura finishes with a story about a client who was a representation of strength of heart and strength of mind.