Hello! I am Tina Luongo, the 2023–24 Chair of our ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, and I am truly thrilled and honored by this opportunity to work with all of you, the amazing CJS staff, our committed Council, Committee chairs, vice chairs, and other partners. I have big shoes to fill as our section has flourished under the dedicated leadership of our amazing past chairs, and as I start this year, I owe them gratitude for the lessons they have shared with me in preparation for this moment.
A bit about me, I am the Chief Attorney of the Criminal Defense Practice of The Legal Aid Society of New York City, where I have been a public defender for over 20 years. I joined the ABA in 2010. Since then, I have served as the chair of the Task Force on Comprehensive Representation; the co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force; the co-chair of the Section Officers Conference (SOC) Budget Task Force; and a member of the SOC Executive Board. The CJS has provided me with incredible opportunities, allowing me to grow both professionally and personally. Through all these roles, I have built relationships with people from all backgrounds and life experiences, which will serve me well this year. On a personal note, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but now live in Connecticut with my wife, Kim; our 8-year-old twins, Kyle and Luca; and our graying pit bull, Rufus. I believe I am the first gender fluid chair of our section, which means that I do not identify in the male-female gender binary, and I use the pronouns she/her and they/them. All of this makes me who I am and how I move through this world.
The work we do in our section is more critical than ever. Though we have made enormous strides to bring equity and fairness to the criminal legal system, true access to justice is still far from reach. Our system is still reliant on incarceration instead of prevention. Correctional and policing budgets still vastly outweigh funding for community-based mental health treatment and youth development. Plea-bargaining and sentencing guidelines perpetuate generational harms long set in motion by racial and economic disparity. Public defender and district attorney offices are facing enormous rates of attrition because, despite loving what they do, attorneys in public service cannot make ends meet in our current economy. We are seeing independently elected prosecutors and officials experience removal from office for decisions they made or for trying to do things differently and appointed chief public defenders being pushed out for speaking out against racism and obvious injustices. Much of the work of the CJS’s committees and task forces, such as the ABA Plea Bargaining Task Force, set out solutions to these inequities and challenges and create ABA policies that have been implemented in the United States and abroad.
As the unified voice of the criminal justice profession, our members are private and public defense attorneys, state and federal prosecutors, esteemed members of the judiciary, academics, and advocates in the field. There is no better group than ours to address the issues before us. The power of CJS is the work we do together, and it is imperative we continue to engage with one another, in dialogue and debate, to move the needle forward.
As we work together to address the issues before us, the Criminal Justice Section Council, committee leaders, and staff are working to make sure we stay current, relevant, and accessible to you. For that reason, this year my focus will be on you, our members, and your experience in our section, as well as continuing the outreach to bring new members and external partners to the table. In partnership with former Chair Justin Bingham and Chair-Elect Judge Sidney Butcher, we have launched the CJS Strategic Visioning Task Force. The Task Force will collect insights from all CJS members, staff, and others to bring into focus our priorities and chart a vision for the next few years. In the coming months, we will launch a membership survey to learn more about our entire community and gather your wisdom about CJS’s future. I am counting on your input. We want everyone to feel enthusiastically aligned about the path forward.
While we take on distilling a vision for the future, we will, of course, continue to bring you the innovative programs we are known for. Our National White Collar Crime, London, and Southeastern Institutes are better than ever, bringing together the world’s leading WCC practitioners, senior government enforcement officials, judges, and members of the media. These programs are not to be missed and provide extraordinary opportunities to network and cultivate business. Our Fall Institute and Spring Conference will focus on emergent issues in our profession and create space for the collaboration of ideas and a celebration of this year’s CJS awardees. We have not one, but two dynamic podcasts—JustPod and White-Collar Talks with Nina and Joe—hosted by extraordinary and award-winning giants in our field. Our publications, such as The State of Criminal Justice, this magazine, and other treatises, and practice guides are second to none and allow our members the opportunity to put pen to paper on a wide array of topics.
Finally, we cannot do this work without making sure that when we do come together, we take every opportunity to intentionally create welcoming spaces for everyone. Our profession has struggled with building true diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in our offices, halls of government, and board rooms. While we have taken steps to increase the representation of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color; cis and transgender women; and others, we have an awfully long way to go. The work we do in CJS to build belonging is intentional and profound. I am so proud of our section’s standing-room-only DEI programs. When I traveled to Albuquerque with the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force to listen to women criminal practitioners discuss the work they do in Native/Indigenous and rural communities throughout New Mexico, I was inspired and felt a renewed commitment to creating space for all criminal justice practitioners in our section. This year I commit to continuing the necessary work to build a place where all members are welcomed and valued for who they are and thinking about ways to make our conferences accessible to those who have not been able to attend.
It is going to be a busy and exciting year! Please get involved, sponsor or encourage a friend or two to join, and share your thoughts with us.