Readout of Justice Department Leadership Meeting with Public Defender and Legal Aid Community Leaders

On Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, Justice Department leadership met with leaders from the criminal public defender and civil legal aid communities in two separate events, coordinated by the Office for Access to Justice, to discuss access to justice, the right to counsel, and expanding legal assistance in both the criminal and civil legal systems.  This represents the first time in over five years that the Department has hosted leadership from these public defender communities, and the first time in over a decade that all of the Executive Directors of the legal aid organizations funded by the Legal Services Corporation had the opportunity to gather together in person.

“The legitimacy of the law depends on equal justice,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “But equal justice depends on equal access to justice.  And equal access, in turn, depends on the thousands of professionals who do the difficult and demanding work of providing legal services to those in need.”

On Monday afternoon, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division, Office for Access to Justice Director Rachel Rossi, Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon and other Department staff met with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the American Council of Chief Defenders, the Black Public Defender Association, the Gault Center, the National Association for Public Defense, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  The groups discussed a broad set of issues, including the need for data and research, the challenges of retention and recruitment, and the upcoming 60th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark case establishing a constitutional right to counsel in criminal proceedings.  Justice Department officials highlighted the important role of public defenders in protecting constitutional rights.

“In some places, we know there is a constructive denial of the right to counsel because defender systems are simply under-resourced,” said Associate Attorney General Gupta.  “The tragic impact of COVID across our court systems has uniquely exacerbated these issues for public defense offices.”

Attorney General Garland, Associate Attorney General Gupta, and Director Rossi later spoke to the Executive Directors of over 100 legal aid organizations at a reception that also included leadership from the Legal Services Corporation.  The event was an opportunity for the civil legal aid community to gather with Department leadership and staff in recognition of the vital role that legal services play in our democracy.

Official news published at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/readout-justice-department-leadership-meeting-public-defender-and-legal-aid-community-leaders

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