Thirty-five public defenders, private lawyers, and advocates gathered in Dayton for two days to talk about the possibility of an organization that was in the wind.  We called it the National Association of Public Defenders. 

One of the first activities we engaged in was to brainstorm words that we hoped would describe the future organization.  The words that came out were such things as productive, optimistic, encouraging, collaborative, challenging, ambitious, surprising and passionate.  We then asked the group to think about what staff in their office wanted a new organization to be.  The words were fearless, reinforcing, relevant, productive, supportive, aggressive, informative, and affordable (actually the word was “cheap.”). 

We went around the room and each person expressed their vision for the organization.  Some expressed that they wanted NAPD to do something about huge caseloads line public defenders are carrying, and some wanted a national strategy.  Others wanted NAPD to have an impact—a national impact, taking advantage of the Wilbur opinion and successful caseload litigation.  Some wanted NAPD to collaborate with NACDL and NLADA on significant issues, like caseloads.  Many wanted resources to be shared among all providers, with particular outreach to assigned counsel and contract lawyers.  There was sentiment for working to increase the resources coming from DOJ from law enforcement to indigent defense.  There were many who focused on standards and accountability.  Many wanted “real power”, to “have an impact,” to organize public defense to speak with one voice.  Everyone agreed that training and education would be a vital function of NAPD.  There was also a consensus that growing membership should be our initial focus.

Common themes began to emerge.  We said that we wanted to become a national voice with a big impact, “harness the power of public defenders.”  We wanted to become a community, to work with other organizations, and to tackle common issues, like funding, caseloads, and independence.  The development of national standards and professionalism was important.  Providing support to assigned counsel programs was an expressed value.  Gaining federal support was hoped for.  And an overarching value expressed was “being client centered.”

By the end of the two days, the original name changed to the National Association for Public Defense.  That name change was significant—it meant that we were an organization that was explicitly intended to serve the needs of public defenders, private lawyers representing indigents under an assigned counsel or contract system, investigators, social workers, administrative staff, and advocacy organizations. 

Since that time, the Steering Committee has been meeting almost every two weeks to plan the implementation of this vision.  An active Education Committee has put on numerous webinars and blogs.  A robust and interesting website is up where the blogs are featured and articles of interest are posted daily.  A Facebook page has grown with over 500 likes.  Additional committees have formed, including Amicus, Ethics, and Caseloads.  Over 200 individuals have joined using PayPal, and 22 organizations have also joined.  Once all the invoices come in we will have over 5000 paid members. 

I wonder, now that we have over 5000 members:  what words would you use?  How do you characterize NAPD differently than the 35 who gathered in Dayton last fall? 

We are gathering again, in Chicago this time, in the middle of winter.  The conversation will continue there.  If you want to have a role in shaping NAPD, show up on February 7th at DePaul Law School.  An alternative is to send me your ideas, through this link.  Hope to hear from you.  This is your organization, and it is being shaped as we speak.