Tell the public defense community about your journey to leadership?
I joined the Maryland Public Defender’s Office in 1981 as an Assistant Public Defender in the Montgomery County Office. For the next ten years I served as a trial attorney in that office beginning in juvenile court, moving to misdemeanors and eventually to major felonies. In 1990 I went into private practice handling criminal matters from misdemeanors to capital murder in both federal and state court. I returned to the Office of Public Defender in 2000 in a leadership role serving as the District Public Defender for Montgomery County, Maryland overseeing an office of 35 attorneys and 30 core staff.  In 2009 the Board of Trustees appointed me Public Defender for the State of Maryland, the fourth lawyer to hold this position in the agency’s 46 year history.

Tell the community about your organization?
The Maryland Office of the Public Defender is a statewide agency with 561 attorneys and 343 core staff handling approximately 202,000 cases per year. The agency has 50 locations statewide. Our District Trial Divisions provide felony, misdemeanor, traffic and juvenile delinquency defense for any offense in which incarceration or detention is a possible sanction. Our Mental Health Division challenges involuntary commitments of individuals in mental health hospitals across the state. This Division also provides representation for those found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) and Incompetent to Stand Trial (IST). Our Parental Defense Division represents parents in abuse and neglect cases and termination of parental rights proceeding (TPR).  OPD’s Appellate Division provides representation on direct appeals. Our Post Conviction Defenders Division provides representation in post- conviction proceedings, immigration Coram Nobis proceedings and Writs of Actual Innocence.

What are the biggest problems in public defense as 2018 begins?
Lack of adequate funding is the major challenge this and every year in public defense. Public defense systems throughout the country suffer from excessive workloads and a paucity of resources. This is true in nearly every type of system whether the agency is funded statewide or locally. Some are worse off than others but most struggle to meet its constitutional obligations with less-than-adequate resources. Public Defense systems are in the forefront in the fight for racial justice and against mass incarceration. Recent years have seen an increase in the “criminalization of poverty” through the imposition of excessive fines and fees on poor people, money bail and the incarceration of the poor for their inability to pay these excessive fees or their inability to post unaffordable bonds.
What are your thoughts as you begin your two-year term as NAPD Chair?
Both the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee of NAPD are made up of talented and visionary leaders in the public defense movement. We can learn so much from each other’s experience and we can teach best practices and innovative policies and procedures to our member systems and individual members nationwide. Blessed with a dedicated and talented staff, NAPD constantly endeavors to fulfill its mission to provide support, training and resources to federal, state, county and local public defense and assigned counsel providers.
What has NAPD accomplished in its first four years of existence?
Membership has increased steadily each of the four years. Webinars, Blogs and live programming has provided individual members and systems with invaluable educational materials on all manner of public defense work. NAPD has developed a state-of-the-art digital library, MyGideon which serves members nationally, free of cost. The Leadership Institute and the Workload Conference were sold-out events convening public defense leaders from across the nation to learn from the top leaders about controlling workloads and managing offices of all sizes. NAPD has established an Amicus Committee, a Systems Builders Committee, a Strike Force Committee and a Racial Justice Committee, all of which provide as-needed assistance to public defense systems.

What do you hope NAPD achieves in 2018?
It is hard to follow an inspirational leader like Mark Stephens. I look forward to working with him as he will stay on the Executive Committee in the role of past chair. But I look to draw upon the wisdom of NAPD’s founders like Tim Young, Ed Monahan, of course, Executive Director, Ernie Lewis and Development and Engagement Director, Heather Hall for advice and direction. I very much look forward to working with Vice-Chair Derwyn Bunton, New Orleans’ Public Defender. If anyone has earned his stripes as a leader in the embattled world of public defense it is Derwyn who has shown courage and independence in tackling the structural and funding challenges in the City of New Orleans. The Steering Committee has added key leaders like Lorinda Youngcourt from Seattle, Doug Wilson from Colorado, Michael Bennett from Missouri and Kevin Tully from Charlotte. These new committee members will join a powerful group of current and continuing Steering Committee members which include, Mark Stephens, Knoxville,  Jeff Adachi, San Francisco, Alex Bassos, Oregon, Nancy Bennett, Massachusetts, Keir Bradford-Grey, Philadelphia, Derwyn Bunton, New Orleans, Amy Campanelli, Chicago, Dawn Deaner, Nashville, Steve Hanlon, General Counsel, Rick Jones, Harlem, Tina Luongo, New York, Carlos Martinez, Miami,  Janene McCabe, Colorado, Teri Moore, Investigator FPD,  Ed Monahan, Kentucky, Janet Moore, Cincinnati, Ndume Olatushani, client representative, Bill Ward, Minnesota, Joanna Landau, Utah, and Tim Young, Ohio. 

In four short years NAPD has grown from a handful of members meeting in Dayton Ohio to a geographically and culturally diverse, national organization that has become the voice of public defense in the United States. I hope to help NAPD fulfill its vision statement “eradicating injustice by fostering high-quality, client-centered advocacy for those who cannot afford counsel.

Paul DeWolfe, Public Defender, Maryland Office of Public Defense
Chair, NAPD Steering Committee