Judge Thelton Henderson to Keynote SF Summit on Indigent Defense Crisis

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Public Defenders, Criminal Justice Leaders from around U.S. to Convene in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – Over 300 people in support of public defense will gather on Wednesday, May 6, 2009 to hear Judge Thelton Henderson, senior federal judge of the Northern District of California, speak to the importance of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, which is currently being threatened by nationwide budget cuts.

Judge Henderson will be the keynote speaker of the 2009 Justice Summit: Defending the Public and the Constitution. The purpose of the summit is to examine the endemic and systemic failures of the indigent defense system, how public defenders, appointed attorneys and their clients are coping with the crisis, and the steps that must be taken to avert the undermining of the right to counsel.

The 2009 Justice Summit, sponsored by organizations representing over 12,000 California attorneys – the California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Bar Association of San Francisco and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office – will take place Wednesday, May 6, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., at the Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street in San Francisco.

In addition to Judge Henderson’s keynote address, the summit will feature panels on the role of public defenders in enforcing constitutional rights and public defender reentry programs that reduce crime. Speakers include: LaDoris Cordell, legal commentator and former judge; Cookie Ridolfi, Director of the Northern California Innocence Project; Melanca Clark of the Brennan Justice Center in New York; and Richard Goemann, Director of Defender Legal Services, National Legal Aid & Defender Association. The afternoon panel will feature testimonials by clients who have been represented by public defenders and appointed lawyers.

“For the vast majority of our citizens who are caught up in the criminal justice system, public defenders and court appointed defense attorneys are responsible for delivering on the constitutional promise of effective representation. However, for years, defenders have been expected to perform in a system that denies them the time and essential resources required of a quality defense. Reform is needed at the local, state and national levels to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system, protect the public’s safety and ensure everyone’s constitutional right to a lawyer,” California Attorneys for Criminal Justice President Ted Cassman said.

“The safety of our communities depends on a justice system that makes sure the right people are charged with the right crimes and receive the right sentences. Defense attorneys play a critical role in preventing wrongful convictions and ensuring measured and appropriate sanctions for those who are found guilty. Failing to adequately fund public defense offices carries unacceptable fiscal and human costs. In California, over 200 men and women have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned since 1990,” California Public Defenders Association President Bart Sheela said.

“What is happening in San Francisco is just a snapshot of a national crisis that has slammed the door shut on justice for thousands of adults and children. Fair trials are only possible when everyone, regardless of income, has access to quality legal counsel. The U.S. and California constitutions require the government to provide qualified lawyers to anyone facing jail or prison time and who can’t afford one. The quality of legal representation someone receives in San Francisco, California, or anywhere, should not depend on the amount of money in his or her pocket,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said. Adachi’s office is facing a 25 percent cut as a result of budget reductions proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“Equal justice and fairness are bedrock principles of criminal justice in our nation. People are shocked when they learn how easily they are tossed aside, especially when states and counties focus solely on finding the absolute cheapest way to provide public defense services. Cheap public defense, like a cheap municipal building, will eventually crumble and people will be hurt,” National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Director of Defender Legal Services Richard Goemann said.

The 2009 Justice Summit has attracted the support of a broad-based coalition of over 50 community, faith-based, and legal organizations. The movement to support indigent defense has been motivated by a surge of national interest in how the criminal justice system is being affected by budget cuts to defender offices and lawsuits that have been filed in several states, including Florida and Minnesota, over whether public defenders can be forced to accept cases when they are unable to handle the workloads assigned by the courts.

To learn more about the 2009 Justice Summit, visit: www.sfpublicdefender.org. Speakers will be available for media interviews from 9:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m. at the event.

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