Born and raised in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, Lawanda moved to California and became an Investigator with the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office. She was the first African American woman in California to earn the title of Chief Investigator, and she served in this role from 1995 until she retired in 2016. She is a founding member of the Defense Investigator Training Accreditation Academy, currently serves on the Executive Board of the Democratic Club of Santa Maria Valley, and is the President the Santa Maria/Lompoc National Association of Colored People, among many other affiliations.