ABA Public Defense Summit


Misdemeanor courts are the gateway to mass incarceration, yet little attention is focused on these courts. This year's ABA Public Defense Summit focused on efforts to implement reforms in misdemeanor courts and the rule that public defenders can play in promoting these reforms. 

Topics included:

  • No Counsel Courts
  • Fines and Fees
  • Bail Reform
  • Counsel at First Appearance
  • Criminalization of Poverty and Homelessness

In addition, an Ethics session focused on two recent ABA ethics opinions looking at the obligations of prosecutors and judges in misdemeanor courts.

The ABA has applied for CLE credit for this program and anticipates that it will include 9 hour credit, including 1.5 hours in ethics credit (based on 60 minute hour).


Fines and Fees
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EST

Misdemeanor court can be expensive. Fines, court costs, GPS and other monitoring costs, public defender fees, and warrant costs can leave our clients in a cycle of debt, non-payment and further punishment. This panel focused on effective reform efforts that have curtailed the use of fines and fees.

Lisa Foster
Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center

Jared Keenan
Criminal Justice Staff Attorney, ACLU of Arizona

Sara Totonchi
Executive Director, Southern Center for Human Rights

Malia Brink (Moderator)
Counsel for Indigent Defense, ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense

No Counsel Courts
2:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. EST

In almost every state, there is some level of criminal court where alleged violators routinely appear without counsel, usually involving low-level offenses where the punishment is limited to fines and fees. This panel will address when these courts are constitutional and when they are not, as well as discussing how these courts should operate and reform efforts aimed at improving access to counsel.

Ezekiel Edwards
Director, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project 

Carlos Martinez
Chief Public Defender, Miami Dade County, Florida

Kimberly Simmons
Municipal Court Coordinator, Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel

Rosalie Joy (Moderator)
Vice President, Defender Legal Services, National Legal Aid Defender Association

Bail Reform
4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. EST

Bail reform, particularly for low-level offenders, is gratefully sweeping the country. This panel focused, not on achieving an order for reform, but on the practical implications of that reform and dealing with the inevitable pushback. Topics included administering bail reform, combating bad press and addressing failure to appear, among others.

Alex Bunin
Chief Public Defender, Harris County, Texas

Maureen Cain
Policy Director, Colorado Criminal Defense Bar

Michael Mitchell
Chief Public Defender, East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana

Marie Ndiaye
Supervising Attorney, The Decarceration Project

Twyla Carter (Moderator)
National Policy Director, The Bail Project


Ethical Obligations in Misdemeanor Courts
12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EST

What are the ethical obligations of prosecutors and judges in misdemeanor courts, particularly when the defendants are not represented by counsel? This panel discussed this issue with a particular focus on two recent ABA Ethics Opinions - Op. 490 (Ethical Obligations of Judges in Collecting Legal Financial Obligations and Other Debts) and Op. 486 (Obligations of Prosecutors in Negotiating Plea Bargains for Misdemeanor Offenses).

Bruce Green
Louis Stein Chair of Law, Fordham University School of Law; Director, Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Fordham University School of Law

Ellen Yaroshefsky
Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Howard Lichtenstein Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics, Maurice A. Deane School of Law; Executive Director, Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics, Maurice A. Deane School of Law

Malia Brink (Moderator)
Counsel for Indigent Defense, ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense

Counsel at First Appearance
2:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. EST

This panel focused on successful efforts to require counsel at first appearance, as well as challenges and lessons learned in efforts to implement this reform in different types of courts and jurisdictions.

Loren Khogali
Executive Director, Michigan Indigent Defense Commission 

Patricia Warth
Chief Implementation Attorney and Counsel, New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services 

Brendon Woods
Chief Public Defender, Alameda County, California

Claire Buetow (Moderator)
Senior Policy Analyst, Texas Indigent Defense Commission

Criminalization of Homeless andd Mental Health Issues
4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. EST

Misdemeanor courts are full of individuals who are facing charges because they are homeless or suffer from mental health issues. This panel focused on reducing criminalization and helping these individuals.

Tristia Bauman
Senior Attorney, National Homelessness Law Center 

Richard Cho
Chief Executive Officer, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness 

Eve Garrow
Homelessness Policy Analyst & Advocate, ACLU of Southern California

Nantiya Ruan (Moderator)
Professor of Practice of the Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law