MissionThe Defender Services Office (DSO) exists to support the right to counsel promised and protected by the Sixth Amendment and the Criminal Justice Act. DSO promotes the independent function of Federal Defender Organizations and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) Panel Attorneys through leadership, advocacy, management, training, policy guidance, consultation, and accountability which fosters public confidence in the nation’s commitment to equal justice. Through the Judicial Conference and the Administrative Office, DSO advocates for the program’s funding, staffing, policy matters, and the unique obligations and ethical duties of the defense function within the federal criminal legal system.
DSO advances a commitment to the right to counsel through the planning, development, and production of trainings for federal defender offices’ attorneys and staff, CJA panel attorneys and other service providers who are focused on improving the quality of CJA representation. DSO works to ensure appointed counsel have the resources and support reasonably necessary to provide zealous representation of individual clients.
ValuesDSO is committed to quality counsel under the CJA. That commitment is anchored in the following values that apply equally to the work of everyone in DSO regardless of position and responsibilities:
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: DSO is passionate about building and sustaining an inclusive and equitable working environment of diverse people, who add a variety of ways to understand and engage with the world, identify challenges, and create solutions.
Fairness: DSO recognizes the importance of impartial and just treatment without favoritism or discrimination at all levels within DSO and the Defender Services program.
Respect: DSO strives to create a mission-driven environment in which respect is the foundation of every interaction. DSO understands the importance of having healthy team members, inside and outside of the workplace, and thus promotes life-work balance. Each colleague is valued for their opinions, contributions, time, and service. As an organization, DSO believes in open communication, teamwork, cooperation, and honesty within the organization and between its employees.
Empowerment: DSO staff empower each other by self-actualization and professional development. In addition, DSO staff share the responsibility of carrying out DSO’s mission and goals and are assigned tasks that align with their unique skill sets, passions, and interests. Empowered staff members acknowledge mistakes and take appropriate corrective action.
Communications: DSO’s staff communications are intended to be thoughtful, clear, and effective. Feedback between each other and other stakeholders are meant to create a synthesis of diverse ideas in alignment with our goals and mission. DSO takes intentional steps to continuously improve, develop, and expand its communication. DSO management and staff recognize that communication is transactional and dynamic, not static, and that showing kindness and respect is critical. DSO thus strives for confidentiality, trust and transparency in all interactions and messaging.
Leadership: DSO practices leadership consistent with the values in this statement. DSO consistently gathers information and views from a diverse array of sources, managing conflict in the process, to make prompt, ethical, and conscientious decisions which further the goals of the Defender Services program; and, ultimately, the clients served.
Quality: In advancing the mission and values of the Defender Services program, DSO staff perform their work consistent with the highest professional standards. DSO staff strive to produce work that is thoroughly researched and investigated, soundly reasoned, clearly organized, supported by professionally presented data as well as other evidence.
Who We AreDSO consists of a dedicated staff of 69 full-time employees and is organized into four divisions and an administrative support staff. Elizabeth Luck is the Chief and Pam Hamrin is the Deputy Chief.
The Program Operations Division (POD), led by Stephen Macartney, is responsible for developing, executing, and monitoring the Defender Services appropriation that funds the operation of federal defender organizations (FDOs), payments to private panel attorneys who have been appointed to represent clients under the CJA, experts and other defense service providers related to these cases, and program administration costs. This funding permits counsel to accept appointment in a wide variety of representations, allows defenders to pay for appropriate case-related expenses, and supports office infrastructure requirements. Critically, POD manages the FDO case weighting system for planning and budgeting purposes, including the ongoing development of staffing formulas. In addition, POD provides operational support to FDOs for space and facilities, travel, human resources, and procurement. The division also performs on-site cyclical assessments of FDOs and CJA panel attorney programs, administers grants to community defender organizations, and oversees matters related to information management and technology.
The Legal and Policy Division (LPD), led by Windy Venable, serves as staff and counsel to the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services through the development of policy agenda items, briefing papers, and recommendations on the core issues that impact DSO’s mission at the national level. These policy positions are crafted and communicated through the judiciary’s Defender Services working and advisory groups, and are thoroughly researched and prepared by LPD staff members. The division also provides advice on legislative proposals and guidance in response to inquiries from federal defenders, panel attorneys, and court personnel through the Legal and Policy Duty Day program (202-502-3030). LPD has been instrumental in expanding FDO coverage to all but three federal districts and creating 18 FDO capital habeas units.
The Training Division (TD), led by Frank Draper, designs, implements, and teaches national, local, and distance learning programs for panel attorneys and FDO attorneys, paralegals, and investigators throughout the country. TD staff members provide and coordinate training materials, publications, and other online resources through the www.fd.org and www.capdefnet.org websites. The division also delivers programs through an interagency agreement with the Federal Judicial Center and assists in the design of those programs, works with contractors on the planning and implementation of death penalty and federal capital habeas corpus training, and runs the Supreme Court Advocacy Program for panel and FDO attorneys representing clients before the United States Supreme Court. TD provides guidance and information on all aspects of criminal law and procedure to counsel appointed to CJA cases through its national hotline (800-788-9908).
The Data Management Division (DMD), led by Todd Watson, is responsible for addressing DSO data priorities, including managing data as a strategic asset, and protecting and securing program information. DMD staff design, develop, and maintain systems to promote efficient and effective data utilization by FDOs, and coordinate defender IT services to ensure protection of privileged attorney-client communications and defender and judiciary networks. Additionally, staff research, design, and generate reports to meet the needs of FDOs, CJA panel attorneys, and judiciary working and advisory groups. The division coordinates the FDO work measurement study and implementation, and analyzes information collected to inform managerial decision making related to FDO staffing and resource allocation. DMD also provides guidance to FDOs on case management practices and restricted case openings to ensure national uniformity, and DMD staff develop national and local case management training and answer inquiries through its helpdesk (DSO_DMD@ao.uscourts.gov). In addition, POD provides operational support to FDOs for space and facilities, travel, human resources, and procurement. The division also performs on-site cyclical assessments of FDOs and CJA panel attorney programs, and administers grants to community defender organizations.
Who We SupportDSO supports counsel assigned to represent individuals who are unable to afford a lawyer or pay for other critical defense services. Counsel appointed under the CJA are from either a panel of private attorneys designated by the court, or a federal defender organization (FDO). There are two types of FDOs: (1) federal public defender organizations, which consist of federal employees who are part of the judiciary, and (2) community defender organizations, which are private, state-chartered, non-profit corporations funded by annual federal grants from the judiciary. An FDO may be established in any district (or combination of adjacent districts) in which at least 200 appointments are made annually. There are currently 82 FDOs with more than 4100 employees serving 91 of the 94 judicial districts. For FY 2022, the judiciary projects that federal defenders will be appointed in approximately 83,200 representations.
The CJA also provides for the appointment of private trial lawyers who serve on a panel maintained by each district or appellate court, and who are assigned by the court to represent financially eligible defendants. In situations where federal defenders are unavailable due to FDO conflicts or workload demands, and in the districts not served by an FDO, panel attorneys are appointed to represent eligible individuals. Nationally, almost 90 percent of the more than 10,000 panel attorneys accepting CJA appointments work in small law firms (six or fewer lawyers), and approximately 60 percent are solo practitioners. The CJA provides that these attorneys shall be reimbursed for their expenses and compensated at statutorily authorized hourly rates for their services. For FY 2017, the judiciary projects that panel attorneys will be appointed in approximately 83,900 representations.