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Online Event - April 13-14, 2023

2023 Public Defense Summit

Achieving Political Independence and Manageable Caseloads in a Modern Public Defense System


2023 marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteeing the right to counsel for criminal defendants. But even six decades later, public defenders and other indigent defense providers continue to struggle against outside challenges to provide their clients with the best possible representation. The 2023 ABA Public Defense Summit focused on ensuring manageable workloads, protecting public defender independence, and other such challenges.

Topics discussed included:

  • Use of empirical research to limit caseloads
  • Indigent defender independence in federal court
  • Remedial measures to ensure political independence
  • Client perspectives on defender services
  • Special challenges faced by rural defenders
  • The limitations and advantages of video conferencing

CLE Disclaimer: Please note that you will not receive CLE credit for watching the videos below.

Download Summit Materials>>>

Welcome Remarks


Rachel Rossi
Director, US Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Session 1:

Implementing Public Defense Caseload Standards
12:00 PM-1:30 PM ET
CLE Session


Bennett Baur
Chief Public Defender
New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender

Stephen Hanlon
Attorney and Law Professor
St. Louis University School of Law

Malia Brink
Senior Policy Attorney
Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center

High caseloads have plagued public defenders for decades, but recent trends have pushed many indigent defense offices to the breaking point. Yet prevailing caseload standards, prior to 2023, were outdated and not based on empirical data. In this panel, authors of the new National Public Defense Workload Study (produced by ABA SCLAID in partnership with the RAND Corporation, National Center for State Courts, and Lawyer Hanlon) discussed their work, which was developed using the results of 17 studies in 16 different states. The panel examined how these new standards were developed, and how they can be used to fight for better resources.

Session 2:

Fighting for Independence in Federal Court
1:45 PM-3:15 PM ET
CLE Session


Reuben Cahn
Keller/Anderle LLP and former San Diego Chief Federal Defender

Judge Kathleen Cardone
U.S. District Court Judge
Western District of Texas

Joanna Landau
CJA Resource Attorney
Utah Federal Public Defender

Katherian Roe
Chief Federal Defender
District of Minnesota

Federal public defenders and CJA panel attorneys alike face special challenges when trying to represent their clients effectively and free from outside influence, as the entire federal indigent system is supervised by the same judges they must argue before. This panel discussed recent developments that have improved defender independence in federal courts, ways to fight for independence in your district, and how the federal defender system could be improved.

Session 3:

Special Problems Facing Rural Defenders
3:30 PM-5:00 PM ET
CLE Session


Elizabeth Berry
First Assistant Public Defender
Concho Valley Public Defender’s Office

Bonnie Hoffman
Senior Director of Public Defense Reform & Training
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Lauren Hunter
Directing Attorney
Glasgow Trial Office, Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy

Mary Pollard
Executive Director
North Carolina Indigent Defense Services

Trisha Ward
Chief Public Defender
Evangeline Parish

In rural areas, indigent defense is traditionally provided by court-appointed private counsel. But in recent years, public defense offices in these places have become more common. This panel discussed the challenges and advantages to establishing a public defense office in a rural setting, as well as ways to ensure high quality defense in places where fewer lawyers reside, and where the local bar does not welcome change.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Session 4:

Remedial Measures to Ensure Independence
12:00 PM-1:30 PM ET
CLE Session


Robert Boruchowitz
Professor from Practice and Director of the Defender Initiative
Seattle University School of Law

Judge Thomas Boyd
Michigan State Court Administrator and former District Court Judge
Michigan Supreme Court

Avis Buchanan
Former Director
Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Alex Bunin
Chief Public Defender
Harris County Texas

Public defenders and appointed counsel who face political interference from courts and policymakers are often left asking the question: where do I go from here? Outside actors can impose unmanageable caseloads, limit resources, and otherwise disrupt the operations of a public defense system. This panel will discuss legal challenges and other measures defenders can take to protect themselves, their office, and their clients from undue interference.

Session 5:

Public Defense Client Perspectives
1:45 PM-3:15 PM ET
CLE Session


Jamal Johnson
Attorney in Charge
The Legal Aid Society Homicide Defense Task Force

What makes a good public defender and a good public defense office? While examining data and consulting with defense experts are important, clients themselves should not be ignored. A panel of former clients of public defenders discuss their good and bad experiences in the indigent defense system. What worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved.

Session 6:

Ethics of Videoconferencing
3:30 PM-5:00 PM ET
CLE Session


Kate Drury
Regional Attorney Manager
Office of the Wisconsin State Public Defender

Keith Grant
Public Defender
Lake County Public Defender's Office

Rebecca Kiley
Chief Appellate Attorney, Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, Public Defender Div.
Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services

Matthew Wechter
Supervising Attorney
San Diego Office of the Public Defender

During the covid-19 pandemic, the use of videoconferencing in the courtroom in the legal system expanded rapidly. Although most courts have returned to business-as-usual, it appears videoconferencing is here to stay. This panel discussed the various ethical questions that arise for defenders representing clients in a remote setting to help them ensure they continue to meet their ethical obligations. Are video-conferenced client meetings truly private and confidential and how can lawyers ensure they meet their obligations under Model Rule 1.6? Can a client be effectively represented in a remote hearing, as competent and diligent representation are required under Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 and 1.3? The panel also discussed circumstances in which videoconferencing can help your client.