Who you gonna call?  Often public defender chiefs feel alone when faced with both internal and external problems. Some feel like they cannot complain to their own staff or to their board or commission, or receive independent advice or mentoring. Sitting at the local bar may be somewhat satisfying, but likely not the best place to go for help. Perhaps the defender is brand new to the job and while she knows how to file a suppression motion or try a case, she has no idea how to put together a budget, increase diversity, or engage in strategic planning. Now there is an alternative to the local bar:  the NAPD Systems Builders Committee. 
Systems Builders was created to help public defense offices. Early in the life of NAPD, it became apparent that defenders needed someone to reach out to when in trouble or in need of creative thinking.  A group of public defense chiefs formed together to become the Systems Builders Committee. This committee is now thirteen strong, with the addition of Ed Monahan of Kentucky. It consists of both present and retired public defense chiefs, all with substantial experience. Initially the committee was chaired by John Stuart, former Minnesota Public Defender. After John had to step down, Bill Ward, current Minnesota Public Defender, agreed to lead the group. The mission of Systems Builders is “… to assist leaders who are building excellent, client-centered public defense programs, through training, consultation, collaboration, and on-site technical assistance.”  You can see who is on Systems Builders on the NAPD website here:  https://www.publicdefenders.us/systemsbuilders
What have Systems Builders done? Systems Builders has been active since they began. They have already done three assessments, four webinars for boards and commissions, and issued a statement on who should be involved in the choosing of a chief public defender. The latter was in response to a situation where the panel making a recommendation consisted of a prosecutor, probation officer, and law enforcement officer. The committee is now discussing the creation of a mentoring program for chief defenders.
How do I get help?  That one’s easy. Just contact Bill Ward at William.ward@pubdef.state.mn.us, or me at ernie.lewis@gmail.com.