Territory's new federal public defender sets goals for public outreach, awareness

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ST. THOMAS - Though his crew is small, the territory's new chief federal public defender has big plans for his office.

Omodare Jupiter, 49, has been in the Virgin Islands for more than three months, though it was only late last month that he was sworn in at the federal court on St. Thomas.

Jupiter, who had only visited the territory a handful of times before moving here in December, always knew that he liked the idea of living in the Caribbean.

Growing up one of 12 children in New Orleans, La., he always felt that the two places had a similarly colorful culture.

"I don't think I would've done the job in any other place," Jupiter said, noting that he never imagined himself in a role of leadership within the federal public defender's office.

In recent years, Jupiter has worked as an assistant federal public defender - his first years in Seattle, Wash., from 2000 to 2004. In 2004, he transferred to the Southern District of Mississippi, where he worked in the same capacity until Dec. 1, 2013.

Before he worked as an assistant federal public defender, Jupiter began his higher education by obtaining a bachelor's degree in communications at Loyola University in New Orleans.

He later went to law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he began his practice as a staff attorney with the Public Defender Service. He returned to New Orleans in 1996 and eventually served as a public defender at the local level, serving indigent clients in federal court as a member of the Criminal Justice Act panel.

Each district of the federal court within the country has its own panel, to avoid assigning the federal public defenders cases that in some way conflict with their duties to serve in other cases.

Jupiter said that he expects his job will be tough in some respects, primarily learning to take on more management duties, but he has full confidence in the small staff that runs the office.

As one of his goals, Jupiter said he would like to educate the public more about the resource that the federal public defender's office can be and what it does.

He also wants to promote the significance of believing that all defendants within the justice system are innocent until proven guilty, a mindset that he believes the territory actually understands better than many parts of the country, he said.

Jupiter, who replaces former Chief Federal Public Defender Thurston McKelvin, will be based at the office on St. Croix, though he visits St. Thomas frequently, he said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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