A year ago, in Dayton, OH, a group of interested public defenders from around the country convened to gauge the collective interest, capacity and vision for a new type of national public defender membership association. It’s almost hard to imagine that just a year ago NAPD was still a question of “if.”

Now a year old, we can look back and document an amazing amount of initiatives, achievements, and works in progress. NAPD is an association of “us” – members who have built this organization while also advocating for their clients, going to court, visiting jails, conducting investigation, mentoring others, and engaging their client community. A year ago, NAPD took the pulse on whether an organization with no office, no money, and no established infrastructure could be built on a model of volunteer contributions, and, feeling optimistic, took a gamble. The year that followed speaks for itself!

Over the past year, more than 8,500 advocates have joined this movement – close to 1,100  during September alone. The movement is building momentum!
To date, member-authors have posted over 135 articles on the NAPD homepage, and on FaceBook and Twitter. In its first year the Education Committee produced and archived 32 online webinars, and has eight more scheduled before the end of 2014– engaging more than 2,000 live participants and many more watching via the webinar archive. NAPD has collaborated (in OH and KY) for two on-site conferences, and provided scholarships for historically underserved leaders. It is currently developing a 2015 Leadership Institute in Indiana.  NAPD has re-visioned the MyGideon public defense library, making the most comprehensive repository of public defense materials anywhere – including hundreds of hours of archived trainings, diverse resource manuals/reports, state-based legal practice tools, forums for online communication and leadership pages.  NAPD has created an app to facilitate access to these resources, and is working to make sure that both the NAPD and MyGideon site work better on phones and tablets. By the end of 2014, NAPD will have more than 50,000 visitors to both of its websites!

NAPD has submitted one amicus brief and is currently working on two more, at the request of organizational partners.  Its IT Committee is close to releasing an objective assessment of various case management systems currently in use across the country to assist offices who are looking to improve their ability to collect and analyze annual data. NAPD has provided follow-up support to attendees at the August 2014 Workload Leadership Institute, will host a webinar on time-keeping on October 22nd (this webinar is free to all advocates, not just NAPD members), is working on making it cost-effective for states to duplicate the 2013 workload analysis conducted by Missouri (the most accurate and comprehensive workload analyses to date), and recruiting support for offices to engage in workload litigation.

NAPD has developed a five-year strategic plan, and a quarterly reporting structure to begin this month. Member interest has inspired the creation of eight committees with advocates around the country, as well as a Strike Force (to offer mentorship to zealous advocates who risk sanction due to a lack of independence from the judiciary, prosecution or funding sources) and a group of Ethics Counselors (who are working on their first ethics opinion addressing mandatory reporting obligations of social workers in public defender offices).

This month, NAPD wrote a letter in support of the independence of the Public Defender in McLean County, IL, which was picked up by numerous local media outlets (you can read the letter here). Prior to this, NAPD had written letters to support defenders in both Fresno and Humboldt County, CA, Carson City, NV, as well as formal issues-based communication with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (at the Department of Justice) and the Standing Committee for Legal Aid and Indigent Defense (at the American Bar Association).  Right now, a sub-group of the Impact Committee is working with ArchDefenders to address the excessive fines and fees that fueled the simmering racial tensions exposed in Ferguson, MO this summer. Increasingly, NAPD is getting media requests to comment on public defense issues, giving us the opportunity to develop and focus the national conversation about public defense. Most recently, NAPD was asked for comment on the Hurrell-Harring class-action suit in New York (Steering Committee Chair Tim Young also wrote to Governor Cuomo at the request of the NY Civil Liberties Union).

As always, NAPD works collaboratively with partners to ensure that the available resources are disseminated broadly. It is working with NJDC to support their Summit in Louisville this October, with the Sixth Amendment Center to promote legislative reforms and announcements from the states where they are active, and with advocates on issues such as juvenile shackling and mass-incarceration.

NAPD wanted to become something more than a traditional dues-collecting, benefit-providing entity – this year it made great progress in engaging hundreds of advocates to define and build a cohesive, unwavering, and irrepressible community capable of bringing justice to a broken system! NAPD remains a grassroots association – thin on bureaucracy and high on substance, making it possible for a public defense advocate anywhere to share their skills and perspectives with advocates everywhere.

For everyone who wrote and/or read an article, watched a webinar, asked a question on the Forum, participates in a Committee, liked us on FB, or accessed any of the resources on MyGideon – we thank you. This is your association, and you are making this movement what it is!

While we are proud of what we have achieved over the past year, we are far more enthused about what we will achieve this next year – uniting advocates from all different professions, working in diverse and often unique “systems,” and offering strategies both to improve individual advocacy and take on the big issues.